Irish Plain Packaging’s Biggest Beneficiary Will Be IRA Smugglers

Earlier this week, Ireland passed long threatened plain packaging legislation to ban branding on tobacco products, becoming the first European country to do so. Unfortunately the policy, which has been implemented in the name of improving “public health” will do no such thing. Already, Australia’s failed plain packaging policy has already proven that the policy increases smoking and does not affect public health. But far more concerning, the policy provides a new source of revenue for criminal organizations.

According to police reports, Ireland’s decision to implement plain packaging will give factions of the IRA the opportunity to increase their revenue through counterfeit cigarettes. Already the IRA gains £65 million a year through illicit tobacco. However, plain packaging makes it far easier to sell counterfeit products and reports predict that this new legislation will increase their annual revenue by £22 million a year. In fact, according to a customs official, this legislation is the best gift possible to these criminal organizations:

“Plain packaging is not the solution, it’s becoming the problem. It’s a gift beyond imagination. Nothing moves across the border without the IRA taking a cut. This is putting tens of millions of pounds into the Real IRA’s coffers. The politicians have created a nightmare scenario.”

This is not the only case of law enforcement expressing concerns over Plain Packaging legislation. A number of senior UK policy officers including former Chief Constable of British Transport Police, Sir Ian Johnston raised concerns that plain packaging will make illicit tobacco worse and provide new financing to criminal groups:

"it makes no sense to introduce legislation that would in effect make tobacco packaging easier to copy and lead to more counterfeit products hitting the streets in Britain."

Officers in both countries are justifiably alarmed. Australia, the first country to implement plain packaging recorded increases in prevalence of illicit tobacco. In fact, statistics indicate that consumption of counterfeit cigarettes has almost tripled post–plain packaging.

Not only does this increase the strain on law enforcement officials, it impacts government revenue. Recent estimates suggest that it cost the Australian government $1.1 billion dollars in lost revenue, a number that is only expected to increase in the coming years.

Despite this evidence, government officials continue to push for this ineffective legislation. In New Zealand, recently released information showed that taxpayer funding was being granted to lobby groups for the purpose of pushing for plain packaging policy according to the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

If government bureaucrats are serious about reducing smoking, they should try to implement policies that do not simultaneously provide a windfall to criminal organizations.