Tobacco chief fires up debate over duty

Tobacco chief: 'new era of responsibility' call. Picture: PA
Tobacco chief: 'new era of responsibility' call. Picture: PA
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THE UK chief executive of one of the world’s biggest cigarette companies has called for tobacco duty to be devolved to Holyrood to usher in a “new era of responsibility”.

Jorge da Motta, the UK chief executive of JTI, has told Scotland on Sunday that he believes control over duties would make MSPs think again over bringing in anti-smoking measures such as the display ban in shops, plain packaging and the banning of smoking in publicly accessible buildings.

He believes that the measures are harming small businesses in Scotland and his comments reflect concern in the industry that Holyrood is leading the way on tobacco control and then being followed by Westminster.

He said he believes that if the Scottish Government received the level of duty coming in from tobacco sales, which helps fund public services, ministers would think again about bringing in anti-tobacco policies. He made it clear he was not taking sides in the independence referendum debate, but argued that even in the event of a No vote further devolution should see duties come to Holyrood.

The idea was first proposed by First Minister Alex Salmond as an alternative to Scotland introducing minimum pricing for alcohol.

Da Motta said: “In post-referendum Scotland, whether it is devo-max or independence, a new era of responsibility could see Edinburgh collecting tobacco duty, and with that Holyrood will have to quickly learn about the unintended consequences of regulation draining the public purse of much-needed money.

“If tobacco is taxed higher in Scotland and plain packaging was introduced, the Scottish Government may see Scottish consumers travelling south of the Border to buy cheaper, branded packs.

“Could we see Berwick-upon-Tweed and Carlisle turning into thriving hubs for cross-border shopping?” He said tobacco is just one popular consumer item being targeted by the Scottish Government.

“The food, drink and tobacco sectors in Scotland are under constant scrutiny, with campaigners frequently calling for ever-increasing regulation.

“Price control laws for alcohol are already in place, and now there are proposals that chocolate bars should be 
removed from [display] near shop tills.

“The next step could be for tobacco and whisky to be labelled generically, not to mention the idea of Scots’ shopping habits being tracked through loyalty card data, allowing the State to monitor and control consumption.”

He also warned that plain packaging will increase smuggling and illicit trade, with Dumfries and Galloway one of the main entry points for smugglers into the UK. Da Motta said: “We are delighted that the Scottish Government banned the proxy purchasing of tobacco by adults on behalf of children – a law we called for – but the most recent idea to introduce plain pack­aging would effectively rob an entire legitimate industry of its intellectual property, without any credible evidence it will achieve public health objectives, or enough thought as to how it could encourage an already thriving illegal trade.”

The intervention on devolving duties has been welcomed by the Scottish Government.

A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said: “We welcome all backing for transferring responsibility for duties and revenue to Scotland.

“Only by having control of these key levies can we take forward policies designed to protect public health and boost the Scottish economy.”