Price of leading tobacco products increased after the introduction of plain packaging, according to new research from the University of Stirling.

The findings of the study runs contrary to the predictions by manufacturers prior to the implementation of the scheme, that plain packaging would lead to lower prices and greater affordability.

The research found that the sales price of leading cigarettes increased by almost five percent – equating to an extra 38p on a pack of 20 cigarettes – in the 18 months after the legislation was introduced in May 2016.

The sales price of hand-rolling tobacco also increased by approximately eight per cent, which equates to a 91p increase on a 30g pack.

“Tobacco companies were strongly opposed to plain packaging,” noted Nathan Critchlow, lead investigator of the study. “They appeared adamant that, if the policy was implemented, brands would only be able to compete on price, which would result in lower prices, greater affordability and, consequently, increased consumption.

“Our study, however, provides early evidence that these concerns of lower prices appear to be unfounded.

“We found that, as well as the sale prices, recommended retail prices also increased. This suggests that tobacco companies instigated the price rises – and that their predictions of falling prices and rising affordability were intended to deter the government from implementing the policy.”

The government introduced standardised, or plain, packaging for tobacco products in May 2016 and, after a one-year transition period, the policy became mandatory in May 2017.

The study, funded Cancer Research UK and published in international journal Addiction, analysed electronic point of sale data from a representative sample of 500 small retailers in Scotland, England and Wales over the 12-month transition period and then for six months after the legislation became mandatory.

The average price-per-cigarette and price-per-gram – both adjusted for inflation – were examined for 20 of the leading fully-branded tobacco products and their standardised equivalents.

Critchlow said: “We found that prices increased across the tobacco market, including rises for value cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco, which price-sensitive consumers may have down-traded to. We also found a continued use of higher prices to distinguish the quality of premium cigarette brands.

“The increases were greater than expected, if just moving in line with tobacco duty.”