It was with some disappointment that we read your article (10 March) which uncritically reported a tobacco company-funded survey about illicit product sold in Scotland.
The main thrust of the industry’s PR campaign is that illicit tobacco is increasing in volume and will grow with the introduction of plain, standardised packaging – a finding based on highly questionable research.
The tobacco industry has a long history of commissioning reports that seek to undermine health initiatives, such as plain packs, that will cut Big Tobacco profits by reducing the number of young people taking up smoking.
It is worth noting new research published in the British Medical Journal this week (10 March) by Bath University. It says that such surveys are mostly based on counting tobacco packet litter, for which no robust methodology exists.
It concludes that “industry claims that use of non-UK duty paid/illicit cigarettes in the UK is sharply increasing are inconsistent with historical trends and recent independent data. Transnational tobacco companies are exaggerating the threat of illicit tobacco by commissioning surveys whose methodology and validity remain uncertain, planting misleading stories and misquoting government data.”
We agree with the authors that “industry data on levels of illicit (tobacco) should be treated with extreme caution”.