Mark Spencer MP attended the launch of a new report, The Billion Pound Drop, to discuss both the tax revenue lost to the illegal tobacco trade and the health risks the illicit trade poses to consumers.
The report, by leading tobacco manufacturer JTI, highlights how some 22% of cigarettes smoked in the East Midlands avoid UK tax. This includes ‘cheap whites’ or counterfeits of well-known brands. The illicit trade in the East Midlands has worsened in the past year, up from 16.5% in 2011.
Mark said: “Let’s be clear that illegal tobacco is not a ‘soft crime’. Typically 85% of the cost of a pack of cigarettes is tax and that’s money being taken from taxpayers by smugglers. Illicit cigarettes are also hitting small local retailers hard. There’s an added health risk too: with illegal tobacco you have no idea what you’re smoking and fake cigarettes put consumers at even greater risk than real ones.
“My concern is that plain packaging will exacerbate the problem by making it almost impossible for customs and customers to tell the difference between real and fake cigarettes, giving criminals carte blanche to rip off punters and taxpayers alike.
“I want to be clear: I’m a non smoker and I wholeheartedly support the Government’s drive to curb smoking, especially among young people. However I also believe the emphasis must be on education and providing support to quit and I fear the suggestion for plain packaging is a knee jerk reaction which would make criminals’ lives easier and see taxpayers worse off.”