The government has confirmed its consultation on the plain packaging of tobacco products will begin on Monday (April 16). In an interview with the Times, Health Secretary Andrew Lansely said the Government would pave the way for cigarette packets to be stripped of all branding.
He said he was "open minded" about the consultation, and that the Governement didn’t work in partnership with the tobacco companies because "we are trying to arrive at a point where they have no business in this country". He also remarked that cigarettes were not like sweets or toys and should not be sold in fancy, colourful packaging which makes them appealing to children.
There is currently no plain packaging legislation in force anywhere in the world. The Government’s consultation will examiine the evidence on the promotional impact of packaging and look at issues relating to competition, trade and legal considerations, and the impact on the illicit trade in tobacco.
Tobacco companies meanwhile have made their feelings clear. Paul Adeleke, corporate affairs manager for Philip Morris Ltd, said there was no credible evidence that plain packaging would reduce smoking rates and that it would have a negative impact on retailers and trade.
"We believe retailers need to be consulted on the impacts of plain packaging for their business, which include: consumers switching to illicit products, which means legitimate retailers will suffer. Many customers will look for cheaper products, meaning less money for retailers.
"Identical pack formats for all cigarettes sold will make it hard to locate the product leading to poor customer service and increased transaction time. Time spent by retailers attempting to locate the brand seleted by their customers may result in incrases in shoplifting and other security problems.
"Plain packaging would be another regulatory burden imposed on retailers in a time of financial hardship for many small shop owners.
Imperial Tobacco’s UK General Manager, Amal Pramanik, said: “We oppose the plain packaging of tobacco products and will be setting out our detailed views in our response to the Government’s consultation.
“Our trademarks are protected by law and we have a fundamental right to differentiate our brands from those of our competitors.
“Tobacco packaging has never been identified as a reason why people start to smoke or continue to smoke.
“We are particularly concerned about the impact plain packaging will have on illicit trade.
“Logic dictates that making all tobacco products available in the same generic packaging will increase the already high level of counterfeit product available in the UK, placing further pressures on retailers and government tax revenues.”
The NFRN looks forward to the consultation that the government has announced regarding plain packaging for cigarettes and will be contributing fully to the consultation.
Kieran McDonnell national president of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, said: “This is clearly a very radical step and we hope the government will make its decision objectively and only on the basis of clear evidence that it will achieve its aims.
“We are very concerned, for instance, that this proposal could become a gift to the counterfeiter. Counterfeit cigarettes are already a huge and growing problem and anything that makes it easier will certainly see an escalation of the volumes of counterfeit cigarettes in distribution and be counter-productive to the aims of this proposal.
“We have always been keen to support any moves that will actually reduce young people taking up smoking but would warn of the dangers of moving the control of this market from responsible retailers to the wholly unscrupulous criminal fraternity who cynically exploit any opportunity to make money.”