POLICE fear smuggling counterfeit cigarettes could become easier if the Scottish Government introduces plain packaging as a way of tackling smoking.
The Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) warned the move, which is currently under consultation, will do nothing to put gangsters off the illicit trade.
However, they stopped short of saying it will trigger an increase, saying there is no hard evidence to support that.
It follows a poll of England and Wales officers which found that almost nine out of ten believed the change would lead to a rise in smuggling and counterfeit packets.
“It is likely that the production of counterfeit cigarettes will probably be made easier by less attention to packaging, and by that logic those already involved will probably seek to continue,” the SCDEA said.
“Beyond that the agency is unaware of any hard information that proves it will see serious and organised crime expand further in this area.”
The SCDEA is Scotland’s leading agency in the war against organised crime, including drug smuggling, people trafficking, threats and extortion.
While counterfeit cigarettes are seen as a lesser priority than those crimes, profits from it feed into other illegal activity.
Detective Chief Inspector Ronnie Megaughin, head of the SCDEA’s interventions unit, said: “The trade in illicit tobacco is not a victimless crime. Those who are involved are very often also responsible for other forms of serious organised crime, such as drug dealing, money laundering and human trafficking.
“The commodity is not important, so long as it generates profits. The money raised from this trade is benefiting no-one other than the criminals, many of whom live lavish lifestyles funded by their illegal activities.”
The tobacco industry is also opposing plain packaging, saying that it will potentially lead to a loss of tax revenue and poorer quality products, if there is an increase in black market trade.
Brett Cooper, Philip Morris’s director of corporate affairs, UK and Ireland, said: “Plain packaging will grant illegal operators a monopoly on supplying consumers with branded products at cheaper prices than the legitimate market, likely resulting in an increase in the illicit trade.”
Westminster has launched the consultation, but all four home countries are taking part, and a decision will be made jointly based on the comments received.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Tobacco use remains one of Scotland’s most significant public health challenges and is the biggest preventable cause of ill-health and premature death.
“Through the consultation, we want to encourage anyone with an interest to tell us whether they think tobacco packaging should remain unchanged, plain packaging should be adopted, or a different option should be considered.”