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Tobacco firm's plea on plain packs

A tobacco giant has urged ministers not to announce moves to force it to sell cigarettes in plain packages in the Queen's Speech after commissioning a poll which found most police officers believe it will lead to an increase in the illicit trade.

Public health minister Jane Ellison said last month that the Government was "minded" to introduce the measure, raising expectations that it will be included in the next year's legislative programme.

Health experts have long campaigned for the measure to be introduced, saying that brightly-coloured packages are the last marketing ploy tobacco companies use to lure people to their products.

But Philip Morris said the research reinforced its view that the move would play into the hands of organised criminal gangs, encourage youngsters to turn to cheap black market products and cost the Treasury billions of pounds in duty.

Populus said its survey of 500 serving police officers found 74% agreed with critics who warned that introducing plain packs "enhances and diversifies the risk of illicit tobacco".

Told that a study into a similar policy in Australia found the illicit trade had increased by 151% since it was introduced, 66% said they were concerned the same would happen in the UK.

More than half - 55% - said they believed it would turn young smokers towards fake cigarettes.

A review carried out for the Government by Sir Cyril Chantler concluded that forcing cigarettes and other tobacco products to be sold in drab and deliberately-unattractive packaging could contribute to a "modest but important reduction" in smoking rates.

Eoin Dardis from Philip Morris said: "This poll of serving police officers is the latest indication of the growing concern around the illicit trade in cigarettes.

"In Australia, plain packaging has not only failed to reduce smoking rates, the illicit trade has risen to record levels, with the Australian Treasury losing over one billion dollars (£550m) to the black market.

"All the evidence to date suggests that if plain packaging was introduced in the UK, it would not reduce smoking rates but would increase the illegal trade which last year rose faster in the UK than anywhere else in Europe, costing the Treasury £2.9 billion in lost revenue in 2012/13, up £500 million on the previous year."

Populus spoke by telephone with 500 serving police officers from forces throughout the UK between May 12 and 25.

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