MPs Fight EU Tobacco Proposals

November 19, 2013

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley and East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson met with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury Nicky Morgan MP on Monday to discuss the proposed EU Tobacco Product Directives (TPD).
The Northern Ireland MPs requested the meeting to express their serious concerns over the proposals and the severe negative impact the directives would have on the local economy, the significant number of job losses that would ensue and the boom that the illicit tobacco and smuggling industries would enjoy should they be implemented.

The EU proposals are to make the minimum pack size of ‘roll your own’ tobacco 40grams as well as abolishing packs of 10 cigarettes, as well as introducing plain packaging on tobacco products.
Mr Paisley explained “JTI Gallaher have a large factory in North Antrim, with almost a thousand employees currently based on the site. Should the proposals of minimum pack sizes and plain packaging come to fruition on December 10th then the factory, based in Ballymena, would have to confirm over 300 job losses quite literally overnight. To put this is to context, 300 job losses in the town of Ballymena is the equivalent of almost 13000 job losses in Birmingham.”
Priti Patel MP, has also raised concerns from a retail perspective about the damaging effect the proposals would have on independent and small retailers, who are already operating within very thin profit margins. She also added that if the minimum a consumer has to spend on a packet of roll your own tobacco is £16, as would be the case in the United Kingdom if minimum pack sizes were 40grams, then the temptation to purchase smuggled cigarettes from mainland Europe and counterfeit products would often be too great to turn down, when such products are being marketed at a quarter of the price.
The plain packaging proposal incorporated in the TPD, which poses a serious threat to legitimate trade, will almost undoubtedly cause an increase in illicit sales. Sammy Wilson explained “Plans to ban packs of 10 cigarettes and small packs of hand rolling tobacco will have a disproportionate impact on Ballymena because these are tobacco products made for the UK only. The reason for the demand for smaller packs is the high level of tax in the UK, if they disappear then the cheapest price becomes the one offered by the illegal trader. Furthermore, out of anywhere else across the continent of Europe, Ballymena stands to lose the most from this EU policy. The impact of the job losses at the factory will be catastrophic for these employees, their families and the local businesses in the area.”
Nicky Morgan MP highlighted how smuggling and illicit trade are often perceived as ‘victimless crimes’ and there is a misconception that no one is adversely affected by such activity taking place. However the point was highlighted that these criminals are often involved in an array of illegal activity such as trafficking, prostitution and drug dealing, often funded by the money generated by the illicit tobacco industry.
Everyone was in agreement that it was sensible to wait and see the impact that plain packaging has had in Australia with regards to the economy, crime levels and numbers of people smoking. In relation to this, The Petrol Retailers Association last week cited a publication by KPMG confirming that the plain packaging of tobacco is promoting the illicit trade. The Study – Illicit Tobacco in Australia – shows ‘The illicit tobacco market is now at 13.3% of total consumption – up from 11.8% in the previous year, and at the highest rate ever recorded.’
Introducing such proposals has been discussed in the past. When addressing the potential introduction of new restrictions on cigarette production in 2008, the Labour government commented “It will be worthless and counterproductive to introduce such measures unless the issue of cheap illicit tobacco is dealt with.” Clearly the illicit tobacco trade issue has in no way been ‘dealt with’ and is enjoying some of its most lucrative ever profit margins.
Mr Paisley concluded “Time is now a luxury that we do not have, given that this will be voted on in less than three weeks. We have done everything we can to stress the fact that the economic impact of the TPD is reality, the job losses we have referred to will happen and illicit trade will definitely increase. Having met with Mrs Morgan today we are confident she will bring a compelling argument, with the facts and statistics required to back it up, to the Department of Health, who are supporting the TPD with no proof or evidence to suggest that it will succeed in reducing the number of people smoking in the UK.”

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