Government plans to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products will make it easier for criminals to produce and sell illegal cigarettes, according to a new poll of serving police officers.

The poll also revealed real concern among officers that plain packaging will make it easier for children to obtain cigarettes on the black market.

Nearly nine in 10 officers (86 per cent) feared the plain packs measure would play into the hands of lawbreakers and 60 per cent said that it would prove counterproductive, encouraging teenagers to turn to the black market where they can access cheap, branded cigarettes.

Commenting on the poll, conducted by Populus, former Scotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector, Will O’Reilly, who has been studying the illicit trade in tobacco products across the UK, said:

“There are 269 cigarette brand variants available in the UK providing a high level of complexity for criminals attempting to counterfeit cigarettes. Even with this complexity the black market continues to thrive so it stands to reason that if that is taken away the result will be an open playing field for criminals to even further exploit.

“The UK has a widespread problem with illicit tobacco trade in towns and cities up and down the country, and this survey confirms that police officers around the country are encountering this problem.

“The illicit trade in cigarettes starts at the very top of the criminal fraternity. The same organised criminal networks who historically have dealt in hard drugs, illegal firearms, people trafficking and terrorism are now funding and organising the illicit trade of tobacco.

The survey revealed that nearly all of the police officers surveyed were convinced that the profits from smuggling illicit tobacco products helps fund other criminal activity and organized crime, with 93 per cent identifying this as a significant source of funding for criminals.

The police officers interviewed confirmed other unintended consequences of the plain packaging proposal. These included:

- An increase in the availability of smuggled branded cigarettes on the black market (68 per cent)

- People bringing back more branded packs from travels abroad (65 per cent)

Finally, 84 per cent of police officers said that if plain packaging were introduced they would not have the resources available to deal with the likely increase in illicit tobacco.

O’Reilly continued: “Police officers face difficult times balancing demands on their resources. It is hardly surprising officers fear they would not have the resources to deal with the problems stemming from the introduction of plain packaging.”

The poll was produced by Populus for Philip Morris International and the full data is available on the Populus website at 501 serving police officers from police constabularies throughout the UK were interviewed. The interviews took place over a period of four days from June 21 – 25, 2012.