Adopting plain packaging for tobacco products could spark a rise in crime and smuggling, UK police officers have warned.

According to a poll of 500 serving police officers, produced by Populus for Philip Morris International, just under 90% of officers said they worried that plain packaging would play into the hands of criminals, while 60% said it could encourage under 18s to turn to the black market.

In addition, 84% of police officers said that if plain packaging were introduced they would not have the resources available to deal with the likely increase in illicit tobacco.

Commenting on the poll, illicit tobacco trade expert and former Scotland Yard detective chief inspector Will O’Reilly said: “There are 269 cigarette brand variants available in the UK providing a high level of complexity for criminals attempting to counterfeit cigarettes. Even with this complexity the black market continues to thrive, so it stands to reason that if that is taken away the result will be an open playing field for criminals to even further exploit.”

The survey results came just days after members of the Tobacco Retailers Alliance (TRA) delivered thousands of postcards against the plain packaging proposals to the Department of Health.

More than 30,000 independent store staff responded to the TRA’s “No To Plain Packs” postcard campaign.

“It is clear from the level of support from retailers and their staff that there is a groundswell of opinion against plain packaging,” independent retailer and TRA spokeswoman Debbie Corris said. “The government says it will reduce youth smoking but we all know that young people take up smoking because of peer pressure or because their family smoke, not because they see a blue or a green wrapper behind my counter.”

The government’s plain packaging consultation closes on August 10.