The government’s failure to understand the link between plain packaging and the illicit tobacco trade could result in serious damages to public health, a major new independent study claims.

The study, “Plain packaging and the illicit trade in the UK”, has been produced by Transcrime, the Joint Research Centre on Transnational Crime based in Milan.

Ministers and officials had failed to do their homework before launching the plain packaging consultation, with “none of the policy documents cited having conducted a detailed analysis of the likely impacts of the introduction of plain packaging,” it states.

“This is remarkable because plain packaging may produce a variety of effects which ultimately undermine its main purpose: to reduce smoking initiation and prevalence. This lack of knowledge is important, and more specific studies should be conducted on this issue by UK authorities,” it continues.

The report finds that plain packaging measures would have three main counterproductive risks:

•       Increased risk of counterfeit cigarettes flooding the UK market.

•       Increased risk that consumers will no longer care whether they are smoking legal or illegal tobacco.

•       Higher levels of smuggling as it becomes even more profitable.

“The illicit trade in tobacco products is a highly flexible phenomenon, it is sensitive to the regulation of the legal market and also law enforcement efforts. The introduction of new tobacco control measures should consider their impacts on the illicit trade,” it concludes.