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Trade voices fears on tobacco licences

Independents fear a tobacco licensing system could eventually lead to a reduction in the number of retailers allowed to sell cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco.

A survey published this week by the Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance (TRA) shows 88% of 2,500 retailers polled believe their stores might close if they were to lose the right to sell tobacco.

The findings of the survey will be used by the TRA as part of its response to a public consultation by HM Revenue & Customs on the possibility of introducing tobacco licensing across the UK. The deadline for replies is 20 May.

The government has said it is not necessarily in favour of a tobacco licensing system and it was using the consultation to gauge support or opposition.

The TRA said it was concerned at the open-ended nature of the consultation, as it was unclear how far-reaching a tobacco licensing system could turn out to be if it was introduced. In some US states, licensing has been used to cut down on the number of outlets permitted to trade in tobacco.

“It would be unfair. It cannot be right,” said Blackburn retailer Suleman Khonat, who is the TRA’s national spokesman. The survey, he said, revealed that tobacco sales accounted for more than 40% of revenue for almost one-third (31%) of the retailers polled.

“I have said all along, there is enough government legislation. There’s no need to bring in another [piece of legislation].”

There are also fears tobacco licensing would benefit the illegal trade, rather than help to stamp it out. About 80% of retailers believed stiffer penalties and stronger enforcement action would be more effective than tobacco licensing in cracking down on the illicit tobacco market.

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