The report, titled 'Transcrime', examines plans under consideration in Brussels to force plain packaging on cigarette packs, to push health-related costs onto the tobacco companies and to ban displays of cigarettes from vending outlets.
It was conducted by Ernesto Savona, a professor of criminology from Milan who has previously worked with the European Commission on crime impact assessments. It was also funded by tobacco major Philip Morris.
The report claims that banning branded packets could leave smokers more likely to reach out for counterfeits, and also risks creating an environment in which consumers lose the ability to differentiate between real and illicit products.
“The risk of the counterfeiting of tobacco products is likely to increase [as a result of plain packaging rules] unless specific measures are introduced to prevent it,” according to the report.
Benefits of plain packaging wiped out by smuggling, counterfeit?
Since plain packaged cigarettes would be easier to counterfeit, the report claims that a boom in such activity and smuggling would cancel out any related decrease in smoking.
Forcing tobacco companies to pay for health costs on the “polluter pays” principle would boost the benefits of counterfeiting, creating a larger black market that will be harder for police to detect, the report goes on.
The Commission's lack of assessment of the criminal effects of its proposals is “surprising”, the report continues. Speaking to EurActiv, Savona said that the EU executive needed to do more research on the specific criminal impact of its proposals across different EU member states. “Some are more vulnerable to increased mafia behaviour,” he said.
Report unlikely to change Commission's mind
The EU executive is currently finalising its impact assessment report, and is keeping its preferred options for new tobacco rules closely guarded.
A spokeswoman for Health Commissioner John Dalli confirmed that “plain packaging is still an option”, adding that “health warnings on the packages are expected to be bigger than they are now”.
She said that the industry has consistently claimed that plain packaging would lead to more illicit trade, “but was unable to support their claims with compelling evidence.”
“We are not familiar with the latest Transcrime study, which is - as far as we know - a study sponsored by the industry. Obviously, we will look at it when it becomes available. It is however not expected that our assessment would change fundamentally,” she added.