So says Peter Sheridan is a former Assistant Chief Constable of Northern Ireland. In an article in the Daily Mail he concludes by saying:
“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.”
Also you can catch me and Mick Walker of Nothing-2-Declare were on BBC Radio Humberside this morning. The feature starts with the UKBA at 0.08.30 in and we are on from 0.23.19.
Here is the article on full.
“With over 30 years’ experience policing organised crime on the streets of Northern Ireland, I know how damaging the scourge of tobacco can be for every single community; every family.
I like to think I approach any issue with an open mind, and that of the Government’s consultation on plain packaging is no different, but right now in Northern Ireland one in every five packs of cigarettes is illegally sourced, and this money goes into the pockets of organised crime. It may sound far-fetched, but that is the truth. Put simply, my fear is that introducing plain packaging for cigarettes will make life easier for criminals, while those policing our streets will have a much tougher time: instead of having 200 different designs of packs to copy there would be just one.
The problem is that all too often people with good intentions don’t stop to think about the wider impact their policies will have. In Germany, over the last 10 years, smoking rates in the young have plummeted from 27 per cent to just 11 per cent as a result of public education campaigns. By comparison, in Ireland, which has some of the toughest smoking regulations in Europe, the overall smoking rate has only dropped by 5 per cent over the same period.
The fact is, banning cigarette logos might actually make things worse. Plain packets could be a smugglers’ charter. I’ve spent most of my working life as a senior police officer in Northern Ireland, where organised crime gangs and terrorist organisations have turned smuggling knock-off fags, jewellery and clothing into a multi-million pound black market business, alongside their prostitution rings and drug running operations.
Because of the power of these gangs the supply chain for counterfeit cigarettes stretches across Europe and beyond. Millions of pounds each year are spent on law enforcement measures to counter their activities.
Despite this, it is a growth industry with damaging effects on society. Last September over £2 million of counterfeit tobacco heading for the UK market was seized in Dublin. Over 10 per cent of the cigarettes sold in the UK are now imported illegally, and across the border it’s even higher. A worrying amount of these are fakes rather than genuine cigarettes illegally imported.
It is conceivable that the introduction of plain packaging will make it more difficult for police to detect fake fags, which have been shown to contain all sorts of weird and unpleasant ingredients.
Many people have said smokers are naturally drawn to branded cigarettes, which is why logos should be banned. But 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.
I know the taxman isn’t always popular, but without the money from cigarettes and tobacco – currently £12bn a year – taxes will have to rise or other government spending shrink. Smuggling of tobacco already costs the UK £3.1 billion every year: cash that could go towards schools, hospitals, creating new jobs or even the police.
I don’t want us to make a mistake that is one step away from banning cigarettes. As America saw when it banned alcohol nearly a hundred years ago – a policy known as “Prohibition”, it creates an environment where gangsters and lawlessness thrive, causing chaos for the honest majority – and it’s the police who end up having to clear up the mess.
Everyone knows teenagers try smoking because of peer pressure – it’s friends and the groups they mix in that leads them to start smoking, not cigarette logos. But if you take away logos and make fag packets more extreme, there is a real danger of making smoking even more attractive to impressionable young people wanting to stand up to authority and rebel.
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.