Industry poll suggests illicit trade will rise after tobacco ban

A survey of 1,000 convenience retailers in the UK has found two-thirds think that the country’s plan to gradually ban tobacco products will lead to an increase in illicit trade.

Last month Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled a plan to phase out the sale of tobacco products by raising the legal age of smoking every year so that eventually nobody will be able to buy them, saying: “Smoking is unequivocally the single biggest preventable cause of death, disability and illness in our society.”

The latest poll commission by tobacco giant JTI found that 67% of convenience retailers anticipate an increase in the sale and use of counterfeit or otherwise illicit forms of tobacco – which can pose major health risks – with roughly the same proportion saying that there is insufficient funding or resources to enforce the ban.

All told, 62% said they would be hit financially by the change, with more than half (55%) saying it would make checking proof of age more complicated.

The survey emerged shortly before New Zealand – the first country to attempt an outright ban on tobacco – said it was backtracking from the policy, which would have banned cigarette sales next year to anyone born after 2008. That policy also came in for criticism for trade groups, which said it would lead to a black market for tobacco.

The NZ government’s reason for the retreat – which has seen immediate criticism from public health groups and tobacco control advocates – is to raise funding for planned tax cuts.

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