The illicit trade in smuggled tobacco is very damaging to legitimate businesses. It causes a loss to the Government of £8.5 million every single day – that is money which would otherwise be spent on schools, hospitals and public services. It deprives legitimate businesses of customers, as shops cannot compete with street price tobacco. Criminals who sell smuggled and counterfeit tobacco are more likely to sell tobacco to under-18s. The extent of the black market and the widespread availability of cheap tobacco product undermine the Government policy of applying high taxation to reduce smoking prevalence.
The UK Government’s high tobacco tax regime has resulted in the ready availability of smuggled tobacco products and the increasing prevalence of counterfeit and ‘cheap white’ cigarettes. Cigarettes can be bought very cheaply in parts of Europe, or illegally manufactured in China for as little as 10p per packet, and smuggled into the UK where they are sold at half the recommended retail price.
Sellers of smuggled and counterfeit tobacco do not care to whom they sell their goods. Children have easier access to tobacco on the black market than from legitimate retailers who demand proof of age. Until the black market in tobacco is eradicated, there will continue to be an unregulated source of tobacco products which are accessible by children.
The money made from sales of illegal tobacco often funds serious organised crime, such as people trafficking and terrorism. Counterfeit tobacco is becoming increasingly prevalent, with criminals taking care to ensure their product looks exactly like the genuine brands, even fooling customers into believing they have bought non-UK duty paid tobacco by printing health warnings in different languages. Don’t be tempted by cheap tobacco – you don’t know what’s in it.
It is illegal to sell tobacco with no UK-duty paid. This includes bringing cigarettes back from holiday to sell to friends and family. It is also illegal to buy non-UK duty paid cigarettes.