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Plain Packaging 'Risks Rise in Black Market Cigarettes’

Tags:  mNationalN Tobacco

Published by: Joe Lenane | Published Date: 16th April 2012

New research shows concern that plain packaging ‘risks rise in black market cigarettes’.

4 out of 5 believe plain cigarette packs will be easier to counterfeit.

With the UK Government expected to launch its public consultation on plain packaging of tobacco products tomorrow, UK residents overwhelmingly believe a ban on branded packs would increase the black market for cigarettes. That’s according to the results of a new independent poll of people living in and around the UK’s major cities.

The Poll Results: An independently conducted opinion poll across the six biggest UK cities, commissioned by Philip Morris International, showed that:

  • 3/4 (75%) of people believe it's easy to buy tobacco products on the black market
  • 2/3 (64%) believe minors have easy access to black market cigarettes
  • 4 out 5 (79%) believe that making all cigarette packs look the same in plain packaging will make it easier for counterfeiters to copy them
  • About half (48%) believe that introducing plain packaging would result in an increase of black market branded packs sold in the UK
  • Of 3 measures polled, plain packaging is seen as the least effective measure at reducing the number of minors taking up smoking

Asked what they believe would most help reduce the number of minors taking up smoking, respondents cited more education by schools, parents or through community programmes (56%); and stricter penalties for retailers caught selling cigarettes to minors (40%) - leaving just 4% who believe that plain packaging would be the most effective measure.

Additionally, another piece of research, consisting of a behavioural experiment involving 3000 UK residents, released by London Economics, shows that plain packaging would result in consumer preferences shifting from premium to cheaper products, making cigarettes more affordable.

London Economics have also reviewed other research put forward as evidence that plain packaging would reduce smoking rates or uptake. They note that much of it focuses on statements of intention of what people might do if plain packaging were required, rather than analysing people’s actual behaviour.

Caution should be exercised in interpreting self reported surveys and focus groups. Robust behavioural studies looking at actual consumer preferences, like the one conducted by London Economics, provide a sound basis for policy decisions as they give a clear indication of what people will actually do.

London Economics report: An online study of 3000 UK residents by London Economics looked at the role of packaging imagery on consumer preferences for experience [consumer] goods. The experiment consisted of observing consumer preferences for a range of different consumer products like crisps, cigarettes, chocolate, beer, bottled water, ice-cream and toothpaste. Various scenarios were tested in which different combinations of information like, price, brand name, brand imagery, product information and advertising were provided to respondents.

The findings of the research, funded by Philip Morris International, were generally consistent across a range of everyday consumer products.

Removing brand imagery leads consumers to shift their preferences away from premium brands towards cheaper alternatives.

If consumer preferences shift to low price products and tobacco companies respond with increased price competition to maintain market share, prices would decline making cigarettes more affordable - consumption could go up.

Kieran McDonnellNFRN National President Kieran McDonnell (right) said: “We are very concerned, for instance, that this proposal could become a gift to the counterfeiter. Counterfeit cigarettes are already a huge and growing problem and anything that makes it easier will certainly see an escalation of the volumes of counterfeit cigarettes in distribution and be counter-productive to the aims of this proposal.

“We have always been keen to support any moves that will actually reduce young people taking up smoking but would warn of the dangers of moving the control of this market from responsible retailers to the wholly unscrupulous criminal fraternity who cynically exploit any opportunity to make money".

Visit the Tobacco Plain Packaging section for more news and views.

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