The regulations which came into effect earlier in the year mean that all tobacco products are now required to be sold in plain packaging. Whilst these regulations were designed to discourage smoking and improve public health, it’s now been discovered that counterfeit plain packs are being sold in the UK.
The first fake plain packs of tobacco were discovered by Retail Express and Trading Standards departments following a tip-off from a member of the public. Retail Express was sold a counterfeit plain packet of a high end brand by a newsagent in London for £10.50
Doug Love from Hammersmith and Fulham Trading Standards said that: “The quality of the counterfeits is so good, unless you know what you are looking for it is incredibly difficult to spot.” With the lack of branded packaging, it’s becoming much easier for counterfeit tobacco to be passed off as the original product.
A representative from Trading Standards commented that “Retailers selling it at full price and passing it through as legitimate represents another headache. It’s a big departure from current behaviour and those doing it will be making a small fortune.” Trading Standards have only found a small amount of counterfeits being sold in the UK since July; however the number of instances seems to be increasing.
HMRC’s original assessment of plain packaging said that the move wouldn’t necessarily have a significant impact on the activity of organised crime groups; however it would make it safer and easier for these groups to create counterfeit products and convince retailers that they are genuine.
They also suggested that criminals could be able to infiltrate the wholesale market, adding that “Local retailers will become unknowingly involved in the sale of counterfeit tobacco.” The packaging would make it much more difficult for both retailers and officials to tell illegal stock from legitimate stock.
Tobacco manufacturers had also warned that the plain packaging laws could lead to an increase in illegal trade. A tobacco industry representative commented that the discovery was inevitable, and described the new regulations as “a legislative white elephant which facilitates increased illicit trade”.
According to the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, HMRC loses £2.4bn in revenue annually to the illegal tobacco industry, and the average retailer loses an average of £34,237 each year. With the new laws there are fears that these figures will rise, with figures showing that the counterfeit tobacco industry has grown in size by 33% in the last year.