A FURIOUS row has broken out after a senior Conservative MP broke ranks with the Government to launch a scathing attack on the move to force cigarette manufacturers to put their products in plain packs.
Mark Field said stripping packs of their branding created a dangerous precedent. Writing on the ConservativeHome website, he said: "Plain packaging will result in other sorts of negative impacts, including the increased health threat posed by counterfeit tobacco, the encouragement of smuggled products and damaging competition.”
Mr Field spoke out after the Government last month launched a formal consultation on the measure. His comments underline the growing opposition to plain packaging, which has also been criticised by retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers.
Formally announcing the consultation, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Health ministers across the UK have a responsibility to look closely at initiatives that might encourage smokers to quit and stop young people from taking up smoking in the first place.”
Doctors and health campaigners hailed the consultation as a “significant step in curbing smoking.”
But Mr Field added to his criticism by saying: "The Treasury is already losing around £3 billion a year from tobacco that has evaded UK duty; criminal gangs operating a contraband supply chain at the expense of legitimate businesses. All of this could result in a potential loss of investment and jobs that goes way beyond the tobacco manufacturing sector."
All trade bodies representing independent retailers have vowed to fight the plan.
Kieran McDonnell, National President of the NFRN, said the measure could move control of the market “from responsible retailers to the wholly unscrupulous criminal fraternity.”
The Scottish Grocers’ Federation described plain packaging as “a smugglers’ charter”, adding that the move would “drive smokers out of highly regulated and legitimate retail premises and into the arms of the illicit trade.”
John Noble, Director of the British Brands Group, said branding played a “crucial” role in “providing consumers with information and trust in the nature and quality of the products they are buying.”