Plain packs for cigarettes ‘do not hit economy’

Plain cigarette packaging does not lead to an increase in illicit trade or a loss of revenue to the State, research carried out in Australia, the first country to introduce the packaging, has found.

Ireland has come under pressure from German MEPs and business groups to abandon plans to be the first EU member to introduce uniform packaging.

It emerged last month that a group of 27 MEPs, mainly German, wrote to Taoiseach Enda Kenny claiming the plans would “open the door” to illicit trade and “restrict” fair competition.

The Taxpayers Association of Europe, a lobby group, also warned the Taoiseach that Ireland’s plain packaging tobacco plans would result in extensive tax losses and would pose a threat to the State’s finances.

However, a study for Melbourne’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer found “no evidence for industry arguments against the packaging”.

The research, published in the online journal BMJ Open, found the packs “don’t hurt small retailers; flood the market with very cheap cigarettes; or boost the trade in illicit tobacco”.

The authors of the study quizzed adult smokers on the phone about their tobacco purchasing habits a year before the plain packaging policy was introduced in 2011; during roll-out in 2012; and one year after implementation.

The researchers wanted to know if there had been any changes in the proportion of people buying from supermarkets rather than small independent retailers, and whether smokers had switched to very cheap cigarettes sourced from Asia or illicit unbranded tobacco.

In all, responses were received from just under 2,000 smokers. They found no change in the places smokers usually bought their tobacco from between 2011 and 2013.

“Almost two thirds of respondents said they bought their tobacco from supermarkets in 2011 (65.4%) and in 2013 (65.7%). Similarly, there was no fall in the proportion who bought from small independent retailers: just over 9% said they bought their tobacco in these outlets in 2012 and just over 11% said they did so in 2013.

“Use of low-cost Asian brands was low, and scarcely changed between 2011, when it was 1.1%, and 2013, when it was 0.9%,” the research found.

“Use of illicit unbranded tobacco didn’t increase either — it was 2.3% in 2011, and 1.9% in 2013.”

In 2013, just 2.6% of cigarette smokers said they had bought one or more packs that did not comply with the new regulations — and so may have been contraband — within the preceding three months. Just 1.7% said they had bought from informal sources, such as a market stall or the back of a van.

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