North Antrim MP Ian Paisley has delivered an open letter, signed by 73 fellow MPs opposing measures for plain packaging on tobacco to Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
The MP says the letter is a result of a long campaign to demonstrate to the Government the unintended consequences, namely increased smuggling of illegal tobacco products, that the measures will bring.
With JTI/Gallaher operating a factory employing 1000 people in Ballymena, the town is one that would be particularly negatively impacted by the measures. Latest HMRC figures reveal that up to 16% of cigarettes and 50% of handrolling tobacco in the UK is smuggled, losing revenue of up to £3.1billion annually.
Ian Paisley and many supporters of the campaign argue that by standardising all packs across tobacco brands, the smugglers’ job is simplified by the obvious fact they will only have one design to forge and master. More interestingly, HMRC in evidence given to Paisley’s NI Select Affairs Committee, have also expressed their belief that increased smuggling would be the result.
Speaking from Westminster, Ian Paisey said:“If I genuinely believed that removing the design and branding on packets of cigarettes would actually deter smoking, then the argument against would be hard to justify. However, it is quite apparent to anyone looking rationally at this issue that this is simply not the case. I haven’t heard of one person who has started this habit because of the design of box they bought their first cigarettes in.
“What I do believe though, is that further smuggling and illicit trade will prevail and as a result, both our economy and subsequently employment will suffer. What the open letter has attempted to convey is the sheer naivety and ill-judgement of these proposals and the many negative unintended consequences that come with it.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has indicated that no announcement will be made on the issue in the next month.