A government proposal to force tobacco manufacturers to market cigarettes in neutral packaging could play into the hands of counterfeiters, according to the vice-president of an organisation which works to fight counterfeiting. In an opinion piece written for Knack magazine, Mathieu Maes, vice president of the No to Counterfeiting and Piracy foundation, points out how cigarettes are already one of the most counterfeited products in the world.
“Despite the fact that this measure is undoubtedly inspired by a desire to protect public health, there is a serious question as to whether the advantages expected balance the direct and indirect disadvantages which can also be anticipated,” he writes.
Those advantages, furthermore, are far from being proven, he argues. The introduction of neutral packaging in France – where the familiar brand-identification marks are entirely missing – has, the country’s health minister reported, had little or no effect on public consumption of tobacco products.
A study by the consultancy bureau Europe Economics came to a similar conclusion after the introduction of plain packaging in the UK.
“What we can say with certainty,” Maes writes, “is that plain packaging leaves the door wide open for counterfeiting and illegal trade. Plain packaging makes it simpler to produce fake products. Instead of having to copy a variety of products, all the counterfeiters have to do is produce a few neutral packages.”
And the dangers of fake cigarettes were made plain by a study by the federal public health ministry in 2011. “Not a single sample from cigarettes on the black market appeared to be in order,” the report said. “Some samples contained as much as twice as much carbon monoxide and tar as permitted.” Black market products, the ministry said, fail to meet legal standards, and present a problem for public health.