PRIOR to getting involved in local council issues in Ilkley Mike Ridgway spent his working life in Bradford-based packaging manufacturing businesses.

Following retirement he has acted as a lobbyist on behalf of the UK packaging industry with the objective of defending the industry against excessive regulation. Here as director of and spokesman for the Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance (CPMA), he comments on the five year anniversary of the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products in Australia.

FIVE Years have now passed since the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products in Australia in December 2012. Since then we have since a complete failure of this policy to meet its original objectives.

RMIT University of Melbourne has released a report entitled The Failure of Plain Packaging: Australian Evidence which states that “the number of smokers in Australia has increased for the first time since anti smoking campaigns ramped up a generation ago”.

The University of New South Wales has also calculated that the number of regular smokers has now reached 2.4 million, up by more than 21,000 people. This is confirmed by the Australian Government’s own data in the National Drug Strategy Household Survey which shows no decline in smoking, the first instance of no decline in 23 years

The volume of illicit tobacco has also grown representing nearly 14.0% of all tobacco consumed. Illicit tobacco has increased its market share by over 20% compared to pre-2012 levels.

All the original objectives of plain packaging - to reduce general smoking levels, to reduce the uptake of smoking by young people and to increase the effectiveness of health warnings – have failed.

The effect in the UK on the packaging industry has been dramatic. Three manufacturing plants producing printed tobacco packaging have closed. These were in Bristol in the South West of England; Bradford, West Yorkshire and Portsmouth, Hampshire. The closure of these factories has seen the loss of many hundreds of well paid jobs within the manufacturing sector including skilled apprentice trained operatives in gravure printing and other sophisticated associated processes.

Regarding the Bristol closure - Amcor stated at the time … ‘The proposed closure reflects the challenging economic environment, wherein tax pressure coupled with illegal trade has resulted in declining industry volume in Europe.’ It continued … ‘Increased regulation has further compounded these factors with the UK, Ireland and France introducing legislation for Plain Packaging during 2017’.

The closure of both the Bradford Site of MPS/WestRock (formerly Field Packaging/Chesapeake) and Portsmouth saw further job losses of skilled operatives.

In addition to printed packaging other forms of packaging e.g. pouches, flexible packs, composite cans, tin boxes and specialised printing of tobacco sticks and security tapes have also seen job reductions. These businesses producing tobacco packaging included Parkside Flexibles in Normanton, West Yorkshire and Benkert Group in Scotland - both of who have reduced employee numbers since the announcement of the introduction of Plain Packaging.

Unite the Union estimates some 53,000 jobs are linked to the supply chain within the sector and has been working hard to protect manufacturing and other jobs were possible.

Outside the UK closures are also taking place on the Continent in The Netherlands, Scandinavia and Germany. Threats of closure in South Africa, Malaysia and other locations where plain packaging is under consideration in the Far East and elsewhere continue.

In Malaysia the Tien Wah Press Holdings Bhd Company is planning to stop printing tobacco packs and in Australia the carton printer Anzpac near Melbourne has been sold with half of the staff of 75 being made redundant.

The primary reason for these closures has been to exit the market with the arrival of plain packaging for cigarette cartons which rendered in the case of Anzpac 90% of the company’s massive KBA press rendered unusable with now both tobacco and cigarette packaging manufacturing in Australia moving offshore to Vietnam, Indonesia and other locations.

Plain packaging is having a very serious detrimental effect on the printing and consumer packaging manufacturing sector resulting in much reduced production value and added-value opportunities. Other consequences include reduced packaging innovation and limited opportunities to introduce new brand designs and brand extensions for the brand owner.

I remain concerned that trend may continue into other consumer sectors such as alcohol, confectionery and certain food products. If this were to happen then the packaging industry would come under intense pressure regarding employment and its future sustainability.

Legislators must bear in mind the unintended consequences of such excessive and ineffectual regulation. Plain packaging has been extremely damaging to the packaging businesses, its employees and to consumer choice in the market without achieving any of its laudable aims.