Reactions have continued to pour in to The Grocer today following the government’s announcement that cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco will have to be sold in standardised packs from May 2016.
The Institute of Economic Affairs described it as “a gross infringement of the right of companies to use their trademarks and design their own packaging”. Christopher Snowdon, the body’s director of lifestyle economics, said: “There is no need to wonder what will happen next. We need only look at Australia where the black market has grown and youth smoking has risen. To pursue this grandstanding policy in spite of the Australian experience is sheer negligence.”
Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP commented on his Twitter account that plain packaging was an “appalling intrusion into consumer choice and the operation of the free market.” Jobs and tax revenue would suffer, he said.
Independent newsagents lambasted the move as “unnecessary, illogical and plain nonsense”.
Paul Baxter, chief executive of the National Federation of Retail News Agents (NFRN), said: “From April 6 this year tobacco will be banned from display in all small stores and is already behind screens in supermarkets and larger stores so the move to introduce standardised packaging is unnecessary, illogical and unwelcome.
“While independent newsagents have always been - and will always be - supportive of any moves to stop young people smoking or deciding to take it up, putting tobacco in standardised packaging is not the right way to go about this.”
Baxter said the NFRN had repeatedly warned the government that such a move would take control from a market of responsible retailers to one that comprised a wholly unscrupulous criminal fraternity that would exploit any opportunity to make money, including selling tobacco to under-18s. “Counterfeit cigarettes are already a huge and growing problem and standardised packaging will make this even worse.”
The NFRN plans to campaign “loudly” against plain packaging over the coming weeks. ”With a general election looming, MPs will be wise to listen to their local newsagents before they decide which way they will vote on this measure,” Baxter said.
A British American Tobacco spokesman said “this is a serious error of judgment given the clear evidence from Australia that plain packaging has not achieved any of its public health objectives and has increased illicit trade to its highest level in seven years.”
It was also inappropriate for the UK government to pre-empt the findings of its own public consultation by rushing this announcement out, he said.
A spokesman from Japan Tobacco International (JTI), said the company strongly considered plain packaging would be unlawful and would deprive the company of assets worth billions of pounds at a time when the UK economy appeared to be turning the corner.
“It is inexplicable that the government is rushing to legislate on this important issue, which was opposed by nearly two thirds of the respondents to a public consultation and over 40% of other European Union (EU) member states have raised concerns over the plain packaging proposals.”
JTI and others had repeatedly said that plain packaging would infringe EU requirements on the free movement of goods, violate property and trademark rights, and go against obligations under EU and World Trade Organisation rules.
“We have no doubt the major crime syndicates across the globe are scrutinising these proposed regulations as the UK government prepares to provide counterfeiters with a blueprint of exactly how to copy UK tobacco packs in the future. Brand owners of products in any controversial industries should prepare for similar anti-business measures as the government has now made it clear that regulation will be passed despite the evidence showing that plain packaging doesn’t work,“ he said.
The wider consumer products industry has good reason to be worried about the introduction of plain packaging, a legal expert has warned.
Tom Scourfield, head of intellectual property at law firm CMS, said: “There is a wider issue here. This is a first foray into depriving proprietary rights to perfectly legal products to discourage their consumption.” He asked whether chocolate, fizzy drinks or alcohol sold in plain packaging would be next to encourage moderation. “The wider consumer products industry has good reason to be very concerned about this development.”
Imperial Tobacco slammed the government for being politically motivated. Its move contradicted evidence from Australia regarding the success of such packs in relation to health. Melvin Ruigrok, Imperial Tobacco UK general manager, said, “The government should evaluate the effectiveness of current tobacco control measures before proceeding with standardised packaging; where no credible evidence has been forthcoming that it will contribute to improving public health.
“As shown in Australia, standardised packaging in England will merely act as a windfall for criminals looking to profit from the illicit trade; furthermore we will work on strengthening our brands which are defended by national, European and international laws concerning the protection of intellectual property.”
Ruigrok added that to reassure the trade the industry had to effectively and robustly navigate its way through a plethora of tobacco legislation while continuing to provide an important category for trade partners. “The government announcement does not represent a done deal and we will continue to positively and proactively engage with the government,” he said.
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said that international evidence showed that plain packs did not have the desired impact on public health. It was an “illiberal” measure that was another victory for the nanny state. “What’s more, it is likely to encourage counterfeiters to flood the black market and hit Treasury revenues, which may mean tax rises elsewhere to plug the gap. This legislation could be nothing more than a smuggler’s charter,” Isaby said.
Paul Lincoln, chief executive of the UK health forum, however, said it was “very good news. We believe that the regulations have strong majority support in parliament and are confident they will be brought in,” he said.
The government had resisted the fierce lobbying by the tobacco industry to have the policy scrapped and it would be credited with removing the last weapon from the industry’s marketing armoury in the UK, and maintaining this country’s position as a leader in the battle against death and disease caused by smoking, Lincoln added.
Bristol West MP and minister for communities Stephen Williams Tweeted: “Glad we’ve final confirmation that coalition government proceeding with standardised packaging of cigarettes and pleased to have played a part.”
Scottish public health minister Maureen Watt said the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes would be supported in Scotland.
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham had this to say:
I often take to Twitter to challenge @Jeremy_Hunt. But today I congratulate him for having courage to set clear timetable for standard packs— Andy Burnham (@andyburnhammp) January 22, 2015