PACKAGING industry campaigner Mike Ridgway has warned that the spread of plain packaging laws for tobacco products is bad news for Bradford-based exporters and will reinforce the city's position as a "hot spot" for black market counterfeit cigarettes.

Mr Ridgway, director of the Ilkley-based Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance, said the decision of the French government to enforce plain packaging for tobacco products next year would put more pressure on pack suppliers, including Weidenhammer Packaging at Buttershaw and Chesapeake at Lidget Green, which aspect much of their output.

He said: "Unfortunately France is now going down this route and this can only put more pressure onto the packaging suppliers and, of course, encourage the illicit and counterfeit trade across Europe."

Mr Ridgway, who co-ordinated the packaging industry's campaign against UK plain pack legislation, said that, while the introduction of plain tobacco packs in this country from next May was "a done deal", the industry was concerned about moves by the EU to make tobacco packaging less complex through a new directive.

He warned that this would boost the black market in counterfeit products. Following the introduction of plain packaging in Australia around 14 per cent of cigarette sales are now counterfeit. and Mr Ridgway says the UK will go in the same direction after May.

Mr Ridgway, a former senior executive of both Weidenhammer and Chesapeake in Bradford, said: "Packaging suppliers fear the EU tobacco directive will lead enforce more simply designed packs. If you take pout the complexity of design it will make them easier to forge."

A narrow vote in the French parliament for the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes follows similar moves in Canada and new laws in the UK, Australia and Ireland.

In the summer, following a spate of prosecutions of shopkeepers for selling counterfeit cigarettes in Bradford, Mr Ridgway warned the problem could become even worse next year when the new rules for plain packaging for tobacco products come into force.

He said:“It is endemic across West Yorkshire. Bradford is one of the hotspots for illicit tobacco. One in seven cigarettes in Australia is from illegal sources. The indications are that the same thing will happen in Bradford.

“When plain packaging comes in it is going to make it so much easier to counterfeit cigarettes.”

Mike Ridgway, who in 2008 oversaw a joint venture leading led to the opening of a £10 million factory by the Weidenhammer Packaging Group - now part of the US-based Sonoco group - has become a guest lecturer at Leeds Business School from where he holds an MBA . He will deliver lectures on mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures.