According to the UK’s Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA), new research has shown that even before major changes to the UK tobacco market were due to come into full effect on May 20, people were increasing their purchases of cheap, black market tobacco products.
‘In a series of questions put to consumers over the last five months as the new measures were being phased in, the … TMA has tracked the impact of these regulations on smoker behaviour and found a growth in people buying from non-UK duty paid sources,’ the TMA said.
The key findings of the TMA’s research were:
- A 14.5 percent increase in smokers buying packs of 20 cigarettes from illicit sources and abroad during the past five months;
- A 91.7 percent increase in smokers buying larger packs of hand-rolling tobacco from illicit sources and abroad;
- A 31.6 percent increase in smokers buying online from social media and websites advertising cheap illicit tobacco;
- A 22.1 percent increase in smokers buying any tobacco product from abroad, thereby avoiding UK duty.
The survey found, too, that the average price paid for a pack of 20 cigarettes from an illicit supplier was £5.96 – £1.39 less than the £7.35 that the government has used to set the minimum excise tax on a pack of 20 cigarettes.
“It is clear from this research that plain packaging and the small packs ban, measures imposed by Europe and adopted by the UK government, are already having an impact on smokers’ behaviour as they seek out cheaper alternatives from the black market and abroad,” said Giles Roca, director general of the TMA, commenting on the findings. “It’s no surprise that our research points to a rise in the illicit market – this is exactly what happened in Australia when plain packaging was introduced in 2012.
“On banning small packs, which are particularly popular in the UK, independent research confirmed that such a move will cost the treasury £2.1 billion in the first year, costing 11,190 jobs whilst even those in public health agree that it will lead to people smoking more, not less, tobacco.
“On plain packaging, a recent major independent review of 51 studies found no evidence that it acted to prevent youth-uptake – the chief justification why the measure was introduced in the UK. Whilst figures from France, that introduced plain packaging in January 2017, show cigarette consumption actually increased compared to last year when branding was allowed. In March alone the French bought four million packets of cigarettes, over four percent more than during the same period last year.
“These measures were introduced [in the UK] not based on evidence or hard fact but on the dogma of various health lobby groups. Given these measures originated in Brussels, the government should commit to review each and every one of them following Brexit.”