Counterfeit tobacco seized in Hastings, October
Back in May, I pointed out that the government's consultation on plain packaging was relying solely on evidence from the tobacco control industry. The evidence review was produced by them, and judgements of the effectiveness will be decided by them.
Nothing from the retail and packaging industries who will be negatively affected, and nothing from law enforcers or border control who will have to cope if illicit trade increases as a result.
It seems Lansley doesn't want to hear the police's views, for example, simply because they are of the opinion that it's a bloody stupid idea.
Peter Sheridan, former Assistant Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, had this to say just over a week ago.
... plain packaging will create a bizarre situation - where branded cigarettes are the tobacco products of choice on the black market. If we hand the control of branded goods to criminal gangs, we could actually be aiding them in their illegal trade.This was followed on Friday by a letter to The Times signed by 24 former high-ranking police officers.
We mustn’t rush into introducing plain packaging. This well-meaning proposal, intended to make more of our young people safe and healthy, will actually make it easier for criminals to threaten the well-being of those closest to us.
Sir, Plain packaging risks fuelling tobacco smuggling. We are concerned at the possibility of the Government introducing standardised packaging of tobacco products. We do not wish to get involved in the public health debate. However, our concern is very much on the impact that it could have on crime and in particular on serious organised criminals who are the target of the major law enforcement agencies.And, today, former Commander of Specialist Operations at New Scotland Yard Roy Ramm chipped in at HuffPo UK.
Tobacco products are relatively small, high-value items and are smuggled in extremely large quantities, depriving the Treasury of billions of pounds in tax revenues. Those who smuggle tobacco products are often involved in other forms of serious criminality. The introduction of standardised packaging would make it even easier for criminals to copy and sell these products to the unsuspecting public, including children. This would place further pressure on already stretched law enforcement agencies and at a time when the Government needs to secure much needed tax revenues.
It has long been claimed by some that there is a connection between the brands on cigarette packaging and youth smoking. If this connection is proved to be correct, if the only branded cigarettes in the UK become illegal imports, then instead of the government's plans protecting children they will be driving them into the hands of organised crime to buy the branded products they desire.Now, that's a consistent message being sent out loud and clear by those who know the counterfeit trade more than anyone else. Certainly more than the soundbite peddlers and PR manipulators of tobacco control.
I think it's really important that before there are any major changes to the law that the public are aware of just what a serious conduit counterfeit cigarettes are for serious and organised crime, and how plain packaging is simply going to make it easier for these groups to operate.
If Lansley is true to his word and is looking at the issue with an open mind, there is your truly expert opinion on plain packaging, sunshine.
In most circumstances, such strong noises emanating from the police would mean dangerous plain packs tomfoolery would be squashed sharpish. If the government really cared about kids getting hold of tobacco, it's a no brainer. However, with politicians as spineless and easily-gulled as we are condemned to be led by, you wouldn't bet a brass farthing on them using their common sense and shelving tobacco control's latest exercise in salary justification, as they definitely should.
It makes you wonder who, exactly, is in charge these days, doesn't it?
UPDATE: More objections from a cross-party group of MPs here. Early froth-mouthed commenters are not regular ConHome visitors, I suspect.