08:00 Wednesday 07 November 2012

Scourge of illegal fags


NEARLY a quarter of all cigarettes sold on Burton and South Derbyshire’s streets are illegal, shocking figures have revealed.

Cigarettes and tobacco seizure
Cigarettes and tobacco seizure

Statistics from independent market research group MS Intelligence suggest more than 22 per cent of cigarettes consumed in the East and West Midlands were non-duty paid — more than five per cent higher than the national average.

The illegal tobacco trade is a major and ever-growing global problem and is estimated to cost the UK Government £3 billion a year in lost tax revenues.

Consumers are being increasingly exposed to brands which are not manufactured to the necessary safety standards.

Colin Wragg, Imperial Tobacco’s head of UK corporate and legal affairs, spoke exclusively to the Mail about the data.

He said: “The research in April and May 2012 indicated that more than 22 per cent of cigarettes consumed in the West and East Midlands were non-duty paid — that is either legitimate brands smuggled into the UK for illegal resale or counterfeit product.

“This figure is more than five per cent higher than the national UK average.

“But the situation with roll your own tobacco is worse. Around 50 per cent of roll your own tobacco consumed in the Midlands is non-duty paid and this is in line with the UK average.”

Research in the Midlands is undertaken twice a year by MS Intelligence, with the focus on different brands found in the area through pack collection analysis.

The results are then shared with HM Revenue and Customs and The Treasury.

The Mail revealed recently how smuggled tobacco with an estimated retail value of £6,000 was seized from the Ezee shop, in Horninglow Road North, Burton. The haul included 12,000 cigarettes and 6.5 kilogrammes of handrolling tobacco.

Staffordshire County Council launched a Fight the Fakes campaign in August to help take potentially harmful counterfeit products like tobacco and alcohol out of circulation.

Mr Wragg said: “The illicit trade is common across a wide variety of industry sectors and products and it is estimated that approximately 600 billion illegal cigarettes are sold worldwide each year, representing some 11 per cent of the global market.

“This trade benefits only the criminals involved — the Government is deprived of around £3 billion per year in lost tax revenues, and the livelihoods of tobacco retailers are threatened.”

The UK has the second highest tobacco excise rate in the European Union behind the Republic of Ireland, and tax accounts for as much as 88 per cent of the recommended retail price of UK cigarette brands.

A typical pack of 20 premium brand cigarettes costs around £7.75 in the UK when purchased in a legitimate retail outlet, but costs just £3.60 in Spain and £2.50 in Poland.

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