Let’s target black market fags, not a health drive

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We sympathise with small shops going through tough times at the moment.

It must feel as if there are pitfalls around every corner, ranging from loss-leading supermarkets attracting food and drink sales to a general national decline in newspaper and magazine sales.

And another area in which traders feel like they are getting a rough deal is the sale of tobacco. About a quarter of cigarettes smoked in the area are either from abroad or are counterfeit – which means that not only does the exchequer miss out on tax revenue, but shops lose on sales.

The tobacco industry – which funded this research – will, as it has done in the past, no doubt leap upon it as further proof that plain packaging would be a step in the wrong direction as it would ease counterfeiting.

Ahead of the upcoming free vote in the Commons on plain packaging, the industry is already in overdrive to outline why there should be no change.

But we would urge that the two issues are kept separate.

If cigarettes are being brought into the country illegally, then let us see action against this.

Remember that while there are theoretically no limits on cigarettes for personal use when coming here from an EU country, in reality anyone carrying more than 800 will be asked some pertinent questions. If you’re coming from outside the EU, you’re allowed just 200. Any more is smuggling, plain and simple.

If counterfeit smokes are being sold, then let’s see something done, not only on grounds of evading duty but more importantly on safety; cigarettes are hardly healthy at the best of times, but knock-off ones are even worse.

It’s now accepted by all but the most blinkered of puffers that cigarettes are bad for you, and it’s right that public health campaigns aim to decrease the numbers of those taking up smoking.

Plain packaging, which reduces the impact of tobacco marketing, would help that further. But it shouldn’t be derailed due to illegal activity on the black market. Correcting one wrong shouldn’t mean not doing one right.