Plans for plain tobacco packaging have been dropped by the Government, with ministers saying they need more time to assess the evidence. The Department of Health said it was right not to rush a decision on the issue, with a spokesman saying: “This is an important decision and we make no apology for taking time to get it right.”
This is good news for responsible tobacco retailers in the UK. It means the Government is going to assess how effective plain packaging has been in Australia, where it was launched at the end of 2012, before making a decision about what to do here. Retailers from across the east coast of Australia have told betterRetailing.com that it has not affected their customers’ buying habits but that it has made it much harder for them to serve their shoppers and manage stock effectively.
Responsible retailers support the Government aim of reducing smoking among children. But there are serious concerns that introducing plain packaging will not only make it harder for retailers to do their job, but also hand over a large chunk of the tobacco market to criminal gangs. HM Revenue and Customs was only last month blasted by the National Audit Office for not hitting its targets to tackle tobacco smuggling. And earlier this year a Government study revealed that in parts of London up to 80% of smokers are buying smuggled and counterfeit tobacco. The illicit market must not be underestimated.
The health of the nation is imperative, but it is important to make a rational decision about tobacco packaging. As Ian Paisley Jr MP told betterRetailing.com in May, this decision needs to be taken based on evidence, not emotion. Once the UK has a rock-solid understanding of the effects of plain tobacco packaging, it will be in the right place to make a decision.