Illicit, smuggled tobacco is an issue that deserves a serious response. Unfortunately, the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association’s (TMA) recent article (17 September) fails to deliver. It disregards reliable evidence on illicit tobacco in favour of misinformation.
Giles Roca claims that high taxes on tobacco products have “failed”. Certainly, the tobacco industry must be disappointed – scientific studies show that raising the price of tobacco is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking rates.
The industry is quick to attack proposed tobacco taxation and frequently claims steep rises in illicit tobacco will follow. It isn’t true. And as a recent paper from the University of Bath put it: “Industry data on levels of illicit tobacco should be treated with extreme caution.” The industry’s sums don’t add up.
If low taxes lead to low levels of illicit tobacco, countries with the lowest tobacco tax regimes would have low levels of smuggled tobacco. This isn’t the case.
Eastern European countries such as Latvia have substantially higher rates of illicit tobacco than the UK, despite low tax. Enforcement of the law is the best way to cut the illicit tobacco trade. Mr Roca also declares that plain, unattractive cigarette packaging has caused a rise in smuggled tobacco in Australia. This is not true.
Sir Cyril Chantler’s review of the policy last year concluded that “there is no evidence of increased counterfeiting following the introduction of plain packaging in Australia”.
Even the former head of Imperial Tobacco Australia’s corporate affairs department has admitted that its predictions on illicit had proved “simply wrong”. By contrast, studies have shown that plain packaging works to deter children from starting smoking. This is an important health measure and we should not allow tobacco industry scaremongering to deflect us from implementing it.