MPs have passed legislation to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. The regulations will require manufacture of branded packaging to cease by 20th May 2016, with a full introduction of plain packs in all UK retail outlets by 21st May 2017.
They will require packs to be dull brown on the outside, with only the brand and variant, number of cigarettes, weight, a barcode and manufacturer’s contacts details to be printed on them in a prescribed size and type face.
The move had been opposed by many retailer and industry groups but 367 MPs voted in favour of standardised packaging with 113 against it.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We have consistently told ministers and policy makers that the introduction of standardised packaging will place significant operational burdens on retailers. We are disappointed with this decision, and would have liked to see a review of existing and upcoming tobacco control measures, such as the tobacco display ban, before the Government introduce more regulations on small stores.”
Daniel Torras, managing director at JTI UK said: “This divisive legislation has been rushed through Parliament, with little regard for proper scrutiny and debate. Regulators have disregarded the results of public consultations, evidence reviews and impact assessments, not to mention the overlap with other legislation such as the ban on displaying tobacco in shops and the wide-ranging EU Tobacco Products Directive. The Government is using the General Election as the finishing line and has hurried this policy along, stifling debate among MPs and giving little opportunity for opposing views to be aired.”
He added: “We have repeatedly warned policy-makers that plain packaging is a smugglers’ charter. The organized crime gangs behind the global black market in illegal tobacco welcome this legislation, which will provide them with a blue-print for counterfeiting cigarettes. Illegal tobacco funds serious crime and terrorism, it steals trade from legal businesses and makes cheap unregulated cigarettes accessible to children. The black market is a huge problem and plain packaging will make it much worse.”
The move is likely to face a legal challenge and Nicky Strong, regulatory lawyer at law firm Bond Dickinson commented: “In spite of repeated warnings from industry experts, this vote shows that the Government remains committed to pushing ahead with the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products. Similar legislation was implemented in Australia in December 2012 and passed in Ireland earlier this month. In both of these cases, strong legal challenges continue to be made, particularly focusing on the restriction of intellectual property. Concerns have also been raised about the impact that the introduction of plain packaging would have on the counterfeit products market, lowering the barriers to entry, and yet little appears to have been done to address this very real concern.
“Without firm evidence to sweeping legislative changes such as this, lawmakers will inevitably face potentially lengthy legal challenges. In this case it is widely acknowledged that the data from the Australian experiment is not yet sufficient to enable robust conclusions to be made.
“If the law makes no positive impact on smoking take-up and sees tax revenue to the Treasury fall, this will be widely judged to have been a mistake. These changes will certainly be contested and the Government will have to provide the evidence that appears to be lacking at the present time.”