EU regulations promote contraband cigarettes

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  The objective of EU tobacco policy is to reduce the harm caused by smoking, by informing and warning consumers of the dangers of cigarettes, by making packs and promotion less attractive, and making the product less available.  The tragedy is the law of unintended consequences.  Everything the EU is doing is making life easier for counterfeiters and contraband artists.

The plan is to require all cigarette brands to carry ever-more grotesque and obscene pictures of cancerous lesions caused by smoking; to remove branding from cigarettes, allowing no more than a small brand name in a standard font and colour; and to ban promotion, merchandising and retail display of cigarettes.

Meantime I have on my desk a pack of Jin Ling cigarettes, which are made not (as you might suppose) in China, but in Kaliningrad, formerly Konigsberg.  This is an orphan Russian enclave, separated from the main Russian territory and enclosed by Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea.  It is bandit country, mafia territory, calling to mind the lines of Kipling in another context:

 “…. where the best is like the worst,

Where there ain’t no Ten Commandments,

And a man can raise a thirst”.

Jin Ling is a brand specifically designed to be contraband.  It is, of course, not subject to the comprehensive health and safety rules that apply, say, to Benson & Hedges.  It does, however, have a very clear health warning on the pack (though no obscene pictures).  The only problem is that the health warning, clear and explicit as it is, appears only in Cyrillic script!  Any similarity to the pack of the Camel brand is, of course, entirely intentional.

This is no small operation.  Industry sources suggest that production of Jin Ling cigarettes amounts to as much as two billion sticks a year — or ten million packs of 200.  Remarkably, this contraband brand has made the top ten in the German market.

Perversely, the measures that the EU is taking are a gift to brands like Jin Ling.  The packaging may not be great, but it’s a lot more appealing than a picture of a cancerous neck goitre (that’s what it looks like, anyway — maybe my diagnosis is not perfect).  The virtual disappearance of branded cigarettes from legitimate retail outlets will help to promote informal and illegal distribution channels.  Jin Ling is cheaper than official duty-paid brands, so more attractive to young smokers.  And because it’s not subject to the same regulation, it may be more dangerous.

The EU makes a big issue of protecting copyright and Intellectual Property, and of blocking contraband.  Yet its policies in this case are having the opposite effect.

The whole issue of tobacco is so toxic in the EU institutions that the industry finds it difficult to talk to the Commission or the parliament at all.  There have been efforts in the parliament to prevent industry access entirely.  This is extraordinary for a product which is legal, and an industry which quite properly and legally employs many thousands of European citizens, including those at the Imperial Tobacco factory in Nottingham, in the East Midlands.

Ironically the industry is also keen to protect intellectual property and to stamp out contraband, and would be happy to talk to the EU institutions about methods to minimise harm while supplying, in a safe and orderly way, the needs of those consumers who choose to smoke.  But Europe isn’t listening.  This is a scandal.  There is no other industry that the EU institutions would simply refuse to talk to.  And the consequence is more harm to European consumers (and jobs), not less.

Disclaimer: I personally haven’t smoked for thirty-five years, and I thoroughly dislike the habit.  But I believe that those of my constituents who choose to smoke also have rights.

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10 Responses to EU regulations promote contraband cigarettes

  1. daveatherton says:

    I hope you are well Roger and thanks for a very thoughtful article. Jin Ling have now arrived in the UK, I have a packet for research purposes.

    The reason why tobacco companies are excluded from government and the EU is because of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention (FCTC) which the UK signed in 2005 and also signed by the EU too. Section 5.3 specifically states “ setting and implementing their
    public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with
    national law.”

    Effectively tobacco companies are excluded from any consultation by an international treaty. This has been eagerly embraced by Junior Health Minister Anne Milton.

    Sub section 11 of FCTC 5.3 is even more pernicious as it states:

    “The measures recommended in these guidelines aim at protecting against interference not only by the tobacco industry but also, as appropriate, by organizations and individuals that work to further the interests of the tobacco industry.”

    So even people like me Roger who receive no payments, expenses or grace and favour from tobacco companies and their affiliates are excluded from providing evidence.

    The effect of FCTC is the systematic silencing of debate and dissent.

    Anne Milton has declined my offer of a meeting as has Stephen Williams the Chair of the All Party Committee on Smoking and Health.

    Freedom2Choose put in a Freedom Of Information Request to the Department of Health and the they cannot confirm that the photographs are of British people.

    If you require any further information I can be contacted on

  2. Charles says:

    I understand that these pictures were taken from a European library and are not related to smoking at all.

  3. Derek says:

    It is a scandal that our governments can be so short-sighted in not seeing the consequences of their behaviour. Tobacco companies are among the best performing in the stock market. I am pleased to have shares in both BAT and Imperial and get excellent dividends year on year. As long as smoking is legal they should be entitled to the same access to government as any other company.

  4. Janet says:

    My non smoking Brother died of throat cancer recently and his throat looked nothing like that whatsoever. All the damage was INSIDE and did not spread out like that disgusting picyutr depicts.
    I see these cigarette packets and feel both hurt and angry that people are now associating my Brother with this foreign looking gentelman’s deformity.
    This imaging is extremely hurtful and upsetting.

  5. Lydia Smith says:

    Charles: The photos used are on every cigarette packet in the UK, they have to use a variety of disgusting photos. Here is a link to where Mr Helmer found the photo:

  6. Pat Nurse says:

    I find the heroin needle most offensive and the most dangerous in giving the wrong message to children.

    If smokers were heard they would have a lot of experience to add on the best methods of harm reduction, health information as opposed to health propaganda, and preventing access to tobacco by children and under age young people.

    Ignoring them creates anger, resentment and a loss of faith in the political process.

  7. Yes. Thank you. BTW, I have not had a real cigarette for five months now thanks to using
    e cigs. I am now an promoter of these electric cigs.

    I tell everybody to just search on Google for ‘electronic cigarette UK’ to see how well established this industry is and
    how big the choice is here.

    What really annoys me, though, are the increasing number
    of posts in the major press saying how deadly they are.
    Apparently Big Pharma – the makers of cessation smoking aids are funding an anti-evape campaign – not the cigarette companies (as
    one might suspect) as they are investing in them. I can really appreciate the improvements of e cigs.

    Just broadcasting – that there is always some secret agenda with these b*stards
    trying to ban e cigarettes … our country’s masters could do a lot more to help. Bah!

  8. James says:

    I would never believe that counterfeit cigarettes are more dangerous than normal cigarettes.
    Why would someone bother to make them and add chemicals to the counterfeits? It’s probably just tobacco grown in the Turkish mountains.
    The government is just scaremongering us with rat droppings so we buy our overtaxed cigarettes.

  9. In fact when someone doesn’t know after that its up to other viewers that they will assist, sso here it tajes place.

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