Tobacco front group cries wolf over smuggling

Wednesday 22 August 2012

A survey by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance – a branch of the TMA – claims that one in eight corner shops are ‘under threat’ due to lost sales as a result of tobacco smuggling and cross-border shopping. [1] This implies that almost 9 out of 10 shopkeepers appear to be untroubled by illicit trade or cross-border shopping. Whatever the actual data, this type of scaremongering polling is a standard technique of the tobacco industry and its allies. [2]

ASH has campaigned against tobacco smuggling since the 1990s and the Government has quite rightly devoted significant resources to tackling the problem. [3] However, there is no evidence whatsoever that standardised tobacco packaging would increase illicit trade. Plain standardised packs would still require the coloured health warnings, statutory information (on tar, nicotine, etc), tax stamp and covert markings which help to distinguish them from counterfeit products.

Commenting on the industry’s latest bogus claims, Martin Dockrell, Director of Policy and Research said:

“Current branding is no obstacle to counterfeiting. The UK is set to be the first country in the northern hemisphere to adopt standardised packaging. This would make smuggled branded packs instantly identifiable.”

Notes and Links:
[1] TRA press release, 22 Aug. 2012. The Tobacco Retailers Alliance is a campaigning off-shoot of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association which in turn is funded by the tobacco companies operating in the UK.
[2] See for example, the ASH report Tobacconomics which lists some of the tactics used to undermine health policies and create unjustified anxiety about the social or economic impact of regulations to reduce tobacco use. Note also that the Populus poll of police officers referred to in the TRA press release was funded by Philip Morris although this is not explained in the text.

[3] Since 2000 when the Government launched its first major anti-smuggling strategy, the estimated market share of illicit cigarettes has halved from 20% to 10%. The latest updated strategy
was launched in April 2011. Meanwhile tax on tobacco has increased at or above the rate of inflation, contributing to a fall in tobacco consumption and approx. 3 million fewer smokers.