Thursday, 12 July 2012

ASH Scotland: polite disagreement over plain packaging

Admittedly the Scotsman's reasoning was a little flawed in this report, which begins:
POLICE fear smuggling counterfeit cigarettes could become easier if the Scottish Government introduces plain packaging as a way of tackling smoking.
and continues:
However, they stopped short of saying it will trigger an increase, saying there is no hard evidence to support that. [emphasis added, here and above] 
It is not credible to suppose that if conditions for smugglers are made easier, they will not increase their activities. This is wayward report writing, and Sheila Duffy is right (to some extent) to be critical of it. If all the police say is that plain packaging will not put smugglers off, the headline of a report on the police view should not say that plain packaging is a 'smugglers' charter'. The report goes on:
It follows a poll of England and Wales officers which found that almost nine out of ten believed the change would lead to a rise in smuggling and counterfeit packets.
“It is likely that the production of counterfeit cigarettes will probably be made easier by less attention to packaging, and by that logic those already involved will probably seek to continue,” the SCDEA said.
As if anyone imagined that the introduction of plain packaging would persuade anyone to stop smugglers' involvement in the trade. This seems a very cautious assessment from the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency.

ASH Scotland has taken initiatives in fighting illicit tobacco in the past, such as organising this conference in 2010, in which SCDEA participated. (It seems necessary in terms of their PR to be seen to care about the impact of illicit tobacco in the light of their policies; but it also seems a little disingenuous since they don't want people to use the genuine article either. They won't tell people to support their local shop, or to buy genuine tobacco rather than fund criminals in the black market.)

Sheila Duffy offers a resoundingly ineffective argument to counter the assumption that plain packaging will increase smuggling:
That this represents a “smuggler’s charter”, as your headline suggests, is also a well-worn yet unfounded response by the tobacco industry. Enforcement officers use hidden markings that are hard to copy to check whether packs are illicit.
After threatening tobacco smugglers with hidden markings that can be detected only by equipment that is used by enforcement officers, she then goes on to discuss penalties for smuggling and promoting her organisation's policies more generally. She has said actually nothing to suggest that the 'hidden markings' on brand packaging will stop smugglers from taking advantage of the removal of brand packaging.

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