Kiran Patel, director of four convenience stores in Kent, runs Londis in Maplehurst Close, Dartford, and this week invited Dartford MP Gareth Johnson to hear his concerns.
Kiran Patel and MP Gareth Johnson
He told the Messenger: “The new legislation that is going through the European parliament I think will affect trade dramatically. We do rely on it as part of our business but it’s not just about our trade but the illicit trade going on around the country.
“There is a lot of it going on, and if the plain packaging comes into being, it will make it even cheaper for the illicit trade as they won’t have to pay for the packaging and printing costs.”
Mr Patel has worked with JTI, an international tobacco manufacturer, to carry out test purchases in Gravesend – which found the illicit tobacco trade offered products at “very cheap” prices.
According to JTI, 50g of rolling tobacco was found on sale at £5 while smuggled European tobacco was on offer for £8.50. In the UK it costs about £16.
A pack of 20 cigarettes was bought for £3 – about half the price of a normal packet sold in stores in the UK.
Mr Patel says he is also concerned for small retailers when it comes to restricting the size of cigarettes sold.
He added: “Restricting the sale on smaller sizes – getting rid of the 10s and only selling tobacco at 40g packets – the way we look at it, it works both ways. Those trying to give up buy packs of 10, but if we can’t sell smaller sizes, they may go out and buy them from the illicit trade.
“It’s tobacco that isn’t pure. They mix it up with insects and it’s not pure.
“We are the gatekeepers of the community and make sure it isn’t sold to people under age; the illicit trade, they don’t care.
"The government and HMRC are losing revenue to the tune of £3 billion a year which could be spent elsewhere, such as on hospitals.”
Mr Johnson said he was keen to strike a balance between retailers and those who wanted to smoke.
He said: “I think it’s important that we ensure that getting less people to smoke, less young people, that we have a balance between what is important for retailers and adults that want to smoke.
“Plain packaging could increase the number of counterfeit products and dangerous chemicals and thereby a greater damage to people’s health.”