Should the proposals for minimum pack sizes and plain packaging for cigarettes come to fruition on December 10 then JTI would have to confirm over 300 job losses ‘quite literally overnight’, according to North Antrim MP Ian Paisley.
Mr. Paisley made the claim when he and East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson met with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury Nicky Morgan MP on Monday to discuss the proposed EU Tobacco Product Directives (TPD).
The Northern Ireland MPs requested the meeting to express their serious concerns over the proposals and the severe negative impact the directives would have on the local economy, the significant number of job losses that would ensue and the boom that the illicit tobacco and smuggling industries would enjoy should they be implemented.
The EU proposals are to make the minimum pack size of ‘roll your own’ tobacco 40grams as well as abolishing packs of 10 cigarettes, as well as introducing plain packaging on tobacco products.
Mr Paisley explained: “JTI Gallaher have a large factory in North Antrim, with almost a thousand employees currently based on the site.
“Should the proposals of minimum pack sizes and plain packaging come to fruition on December 10th then the factory, based in Ballymena, would have to confirm over 300 job losses quite literally overnight.
“To put this is to context, 300 job losses in the town of Ballymena is the equivalent of almost 13000 job losses in Birmingham.”
Priti Patel MP, has also raised concerns from a retail perspective about the damaging effect the proposals would have on independent and small retailers, who are already operating within very thin profit margins.
She also added that if the minimum a consumer has to spend on a packet of roll your own tobacco is £16, as would be the case in the United Kingdom if minimum pack sizes were 50grams, then the temptation to purchase smuggled cigarettes from mainland Europe and counterfeit products would often be too great to turn down, when such products are being marketed at a quarter of the price.
They contended that the plain packaging proposal incorporated in the TPD, which poses a serious threat to legitimate trade, will almost undoubtedly cause an increase in illicit sales.
Sammy Wilson explained: “Tobacco companies are constantly making small amendments to pack designs and appearance in order for consumers and the police to differentiate between counterfeit and legitimate produce. Should criminals only ever have to master one pack design in order to sell every brand across the market it would make illicit production so much easier than it is under the current tobacco production legislation.”
Nicky Morgan MP highlighted how smuggling and illicit trade are often perceived as ‘victimless crimes’ and there is a misconception that no one is adversely affected by such activity taking place.
However the point was highlighted that these criminals are often involved in an array of illegal activity such as trafficking, prostitution and drug dealing, often funded by the money generated by the illicit tobacco industry.
Mr Paisley concluded: “Time is now a luxury that we do not have, given that this will be voted on in less than three weeks. We have done everything we can to stress the fact that the economic impact of the TPD is reality, the job losses we have referred to will happen and illicit trade will definitely increase. Having met with Mrs Morgan today we are confident she will bring a compelling argument, with the facts and statistics required to back it up, to the Department of Health, who are supporting the TPD with no proof or evidence to suggest that it will succeed in reducing the number of people smoking in the UK.”