Richard Ferry is a Trading Standards Officer based in North East England, with more than thirty years experience of dealing with counterfeit or fake goods.
He currently specialises in tobacco control, investigating the supply of illicit tobacco and working with a range of enforcement agencies. His work has led to the seizure and destruction of large amounts of smuggled and counterfeit tobacco.
Day in, day out, as Trading Standards officers, my colleagues and I visit shops and retailers around the country, checking what’s being sold is legitimate, and protecting the British public from dangerous products.
So the fact that tobacco packs make this product more attractive to children, and try to disguise the harm their contents causes, is why we at Trading Standards have supported the idea of putting tobacco products in plain, standardised packs.
We think the evidence is clear – plain packs will be less appealing to young people, and will reduce the misleading influence packaging has on the minds of consumers. For example, there’s still a perception among some smokers – a mistaken one – that white and silver brands are lower tar and less harmful.
The tobacco industry claims that plain, standardised packaging would result in a rise in illegal tobacco sales, and make it easier to produce counterfeit versions of well known brands.
I can say, hand on heart, as an experienced Trading Standards officer, that the evidence to support these claims simply doesn’t stand up.
Consider this. Counterfeiters already have a long track-record of turning out fakes of popular goods, from DVDs to hair straighteners, within weeks of a new product being launched.
The proposed new tobacco packaging would be no easier to counterfeit than the brands currently available on shop shelves – contrary to what many believe, the new packs won’t be plain boxes at all, but will include colour pictures, text warnings, and other labelling, and will require the same level of printing skills as required now.
My colleagues are experienced in identifying counterfeit products, and the use of technology is increasingly our best line of defence.
Manufacturers already place covert markings, or security tags such as holograms, on their products to help identify them as genuine, and this includes manufacturers of cigarettes and tobacco products. We already rely on these markings to identify illicit tobacco.
Standardised packs will still have these identifiers on them, which will allow us, and our colleagues in other enforcement agencies, to tell real cigarettes from fakes.
Another point few realise is that much of the illegal tobacco now being seized in the North East is of brands made outside the UK for other markets. These are not on legal sale in this country, and you won’t see them on shop shelves. The criminals supplying these make no attempt to pass them off as legal tobacco products and they are easy to spot. And plain packaging will make spotting them even easier.
Tobacco is the only product on our shelves that kills half of its long term users when it is used as the manufacturers intend. It is a lethal product sold in packaging that aims to disguise the harm it causes.
Given the impact of tobacco on health and wellbeing, measures to help prevent kids starting to smoke, and aid existing smokers to quit through standardised packaging of all tobacco should be adopted as soon as possible.
- Nearly 80,000 people have supported our campaign for plain packaging. You can join the campaign here.