Following the decision of some European countries, Belgian Health Minister Maggie De Block recently announced that an agreement had been found to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products. If the effective date of the measure has not yet been specified, the Minister of Health has announced that the ban on branding will apply to cigarettes, rolling tobacco and water pipe tobacco. Ms. De Block justified this measure as she believes it will reduce tobacco consumption as demonstrated in other countries.
The policy, first implemented in Australia in 2012, has however never been shown to have any impact on smoking rates. Plain packaging, along with the rising prices of tobacco products, is directly linked to increases in illegal trade. It is also particularly harmful to SMEs and mid-sized companies such as ESTA members producing fine-cut tobacco who no longer have the means to compete, as they cannot be easily identified by smokers anymore.
ESTA Secretary General Peter van der Mark said: “Plain-packaging is not a responsible policy. By claiming to encourage people to reduce smoking, the Belgian government will only increase illegal activity… facilitating the manufacture of counterfeit tobacco products.”