The rise of counterfeit plain packs is introducing illicit tobacco into areas previously less affected by the black market according to the Consumer Packaging Manufacturer’s Alliance (CPMA).

The CPMA represents the views of tobacco packaging manufacturers. Its CEO Mark Ridgway said: “Traditionally, the illegal trade has been centred on large industry centres with distribution via small retail outlets, car boot sales and other market type places of contact. This has now extended into rural areas.”

He listed counterfeit tobacco seizures by local authorities in eastern counties, the south coast, Cumbria, Scotland and the north west as evidence.

Retail Express first uncovered the existence of counterfeit plain packs in November last year. A source within trading standards at the time said counterfeit plain packs were first spotted in the midlands but were “spreading south”.

Whereas only two brands had been identified as having counterfeit plain pack versions in November, a source told Retail Express that the three largest manufacturers in the UK market are now all affected by knock-off plain pack versions brands in their portfolios.

A recent survey by the Tobacco Retailers' Alliance found that 58% of retailers feel counterfeit plain packs are being sold in their local area.

The CPMA alleges that counterfeit plain packs are mainly manufactured in eastern Europe, but that some UK sites are currently under investigation.

Ridgway said that while illicit plain packs are hard to spot, there can be tell-tale signs. He advised retailers to look out for the position and sizing of health warnings, pack code errors, wrong use of bevelled edges on right-angled packs and vice versa, incomplete barcodes and poor quality or loose film wrapping.

Despite the rise in counterfeit plain packs, smuggled packs made by legitimate manufacturers remain the largest type of illicit tobacco trading in the UK and Europe.

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