Unite, the UK's largest trade union representing thousands of members employed by or reliant on the tobacco industry, said yesterday's (Wednesday) announcement of the government's intention to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes would amount to a "Counterfeiters' Charter". The union said the move would cut the costs for the illegal industry, would have little or no effect on levels of smoking but put many workers' jobs at risk.

"Counterfeiters have sophisticated their forgeries of current packaging to the point where even the trained eye sometimes misses the fakes," said Jennie Formby, Unite national officer for tobacco workers.

"Switching to plain packaging will make it easier to sell their illicit and unregulated products especially to young people. That would undermine the regulated industry, may increase long-term health problems and put workers in the regulated industry out of work. Government revenues would suffer significantly and pressure on health spending increase."

Ms. Formby said criminal gangs selling counterfeit cigarettes in the UK were well documented. The issue had been covered timely and in some detail by the BBC Panorama programme only this week (see link below).

She also pointed to the lack of evidence to support plain packaging as a deterrent to smoking by drawing on extracts from the 2008 government consultation document. That made it clear government recognised the damaging consequences of plain packaging on the future of tobacco control.

The document said, "plain packaging may exacerbate the illicit tobacco market as it could be easier for counterfeit products to replicate the plain packages than current tobacco packaging." It went on to say, "as there are no jurisdictions where plain packaging of tobacco products is required, the research evidence into this initiative is speculative" and "the introduction of plain packaging may set a precedent for the plain packaging of other consumer products"

Unite has significant numbers of members in BAT, JTI and Imperial, the three major tobacco companies in the UK. Imperial and JTI have major manufacturing sites in Nottingham and Ballymena respectively. BAT has a major research and development operation at Southampton.

The industry employs around six thousand people directly in production and distribution of tobacco products many of whom are skilled manufacturing workers. The tobacco industry is also a major client of the print and logistics industries where Unite also has significant membership interests.


*BBC Panorama broadcast on Monday 7 March see here or here.

*In November, Andrew Lansley said: "The Government will look at whether the plain packaging of tobacco products could be an effective way to reduce the number of young people taking up smoking and to help those who are trying to quit smoking. The Government wants to make it easier for people to make healthy choices, but will clearly need to make sure that there is good evidence to demonstrate that plain packaging would have a public health benefit, as well as carefully exploring the competition, trade and legal implications of the policy. Details on how we propose to proceed will be set out in the Tobacco Control Plan."

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