Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham has called on the Government to take action to stop the illicit trade in tobacco which is threatening to undermine efforts to tackle smoking amongst young people.
In a debate in Parliament on the issue, Alex praised efforts by FRESH, the UK’s first dedicated regional programme set up in the North East to tackle the worst rates of smoking related illness and death in the country, which in 2009 along with the three regions in the North of England introduced the world’s first pan-regional tobacco action plan, the “North of England Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health” Programme.
The North of England Tackling Illegal Tobacco for Better Health Programme has been successful in reducing the volume of illegal tobacco bought by 39% in the North East, and Alex has called for this kind of innovative partnership working to be replicated around the country.
Alex also warned his Parliamentary colleagues to disregard the view being propagated by the tobacco industry that introducing plain packaging for cigarettes will somehow increase the illicit trade in tobacco, which is simply untrue. The existing packs already have covert markings to enable enforcement officials to distinguish illicit cigarettes, and with these markings and large pictorial warnings, plain packs will not be easier to forge.
“It is vital that the Government takes action to stop the illicit tobacco trade, much of which supplies significantly more poisonous tobacco than retail products, which we know are bad enough.
“I am delighted to say that the North East is leading the way on this issue, with innovative partnerships in place to break an inter-generational cycle of health inequalities caused by our poorest young people’s early addiction to freely available cheap tobacco.
“But the key to solving this issue is to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products to young people, thereby curbing demand for illicit and illegal tobacco products, and introducing plain packaging for tobacco will do so much to achieve this.
“We will just have to wait and see whether the Government is prepared to stand up to the Tobacco industry and put the health of young people first by introducing plain packaging.”