Brand group opposes government's plain packaging for cigarettes plan

Tobacco manufacturers have received support from a brand-focused lobby group after health secretary Andrew Lansley touted the idea of removing all branding from cigarette packets.

Andrew Lansley: favours plain cigarette packaging  (photo: Pete Hill)
Andrew Lansley: favours plain cigarette packaging (photo: Pete Hill)

Lansley claimed at the weekend that "the evidence is clear that packaging helps to recruit smokers, so it makes sense to consider having less attractive packaging".

The idea could be incorporated in a forthcoming White Paper on public health due to be produced by the Department of Health.

It has met with opposition from the British Brands Group (BBG), a non-profit organisation set up in 1994 to represent brand members on regulatory and commercial issues.

John Noble, director of BBG, claimed plain packaging was "bad news for consumers and markets".

He said: "Were products to be in plain packaging, essentially markets would be made generic, which means everybody would be competing on price. There would be no incentives for companies to invest in quality and there is also a risk that it might actually increase illicit trade."

Calling into question Lansley's claim that "the evidence is clear packaging helps to recruit smokers", Noble said as far as he was aware, there was no research in the tobacco sector about the extent to which packaging "actually fulfils that function".

BBG declined to name individual companies within its 24-strong membership, but Noble admitted they include two tobacco companies.

The previous government also considered enforcing plain packaging on tobacco products in a Bill that began going through Parliament two years ago, but that plan was dropped.

Alan Johnson, the health secretary at the time, said: "There is no evidence base it actually reduces the number of young people smoking."

Tobacco companies have come out against Lansley's plan, with British American Tobacco (Bat) calling it "Christmas for counterfeiters", and also claiming there was a lack of evidence that plain packaging worked to reduce consumption.

Bat manufactures Royals, Dunhill and Lucky Strike brands.

An ISBA spokesman declined to comment on the plain packaging issue, saying it was not within its remit.