Fake cigarettes in plain packaging found in UK

Image credit: Action on Smoking and Health

Counterfeit tobacco featuring the new plain packaging has started to hit the shelves of dodgy retailers in the UK, it has been revealed.

 The news came following a tip-off to retailing service provider Retail Express, which bought a fake pack from a London newsagent for £10.50, reported.

According to the website, “the retailer took a legitimate pack out of the gantry and swapped it out with a fake pack, while processing the card transaction”.

Plain packaging for cigarettes and tobacco came into full force in the UK in May this year, which required packaging to be a standardised green colour with graphic warnings of the dangers of smoking printed on the front and back. Brand names are restricted to a standardised size, font and colour.

The move, which follows similar moves in Australia, have been controversial, and tobacco manufacturers and even HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have warned that plain packaging could promote the illicit trade. 

Since the introduction of the new packaging requirements, there have been a number of small instances where trading standards have found fakes being sold, says the report.

According to Doug Love, Hammersmith and Fulham Trading Standards officer, “the quality of the counterfeits is so good. Unless you know what you are looking for it is incredibly difficult to spot”.

An unnamed tobacco industry source speaking to the website said they weren’t surprised that plain packaging fakes were found to be entering the market, calling it “inevitable” given the changes in the law. “[Plain packaging] is a legislative white elephant, which facilitates increased illicit trade,” they said.

The Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance has also expressed concern. “The packaging industry warned for years during the debate about ‘plain’ packaging that this would happen and accelerate in volume in time possibly linked with organised crime,” Mike Ridgway, director of the CPMA told PackagingNews.

Meanwhile, there are signs of an emerging trend in the illicit trade, with the development if a two-tier system, trading standards have discovered following the introduction of plain packaging – counterfeit and smuggled non-plain packs are being traded at cheaper prices while the high-quality copies of the plain packaging packs are being sold at the same recommended retail price as legitimate packs.

“Retailers selling [illicit packs] at full price and passing it through as legitimate represents another headache. It’s a big departure from current behaviour and those doing it will be making a small fortune,” Kate Pike, co-ordinator for Trading Standards North West, told

Originally announced in 2014, the packaging initiative aims to reduce the number of smokers and smoking-related deaths, with the UK becoming the second country in the world to pass legislation on standardised packaging after Australia in 2012.

The legislative moves have led many critics to claim plain packaging will make counterfeiting of cigarettes and tobacco easier and more widespread.

In 2014, HMRC published a report that said that while there was “no evidence” to suggest the introduction of standardised packaging would have a significant impact on the overall size of the illicit market or prompt a step-change in the activity of organised crime groups, the agency did “anticipate” it would prompt some changes to the mechanics of the fraud and to the composition of the illicit market, including the likelihood that standardised packaging would be counterfeited. It also warned that consumers and retailers will find it harder to distinguish between legitimate and counterfeit plain packaged cigarettes and tobacco.

Yet, a study published in the BMJ journal Tobacco Control in 2015 said it found “no evidence in Australia of increased use of two categories of manufactured cigarettes likely to be contraband, no increase in purchase from informal sellers and no increased use of unbranded illicit ‘chop-chop’ tobacco”.

However, a KPMG study carried out in Australia following its introduction of standardised packaging indicated that the proportion of illicit tobacco products rose following its introduction from 11.8 per cent to 13.3 per cent in 2013.

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