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Illegal cigarettes and tobacco robbed Treasury of £20bn over past decade

Coventry retailers worried possible changes to branding of packaging could lead to even more illegal products being smuggled in

Smugglers bringing illegal cigarettes and tobacco in to the country have robbed the Treasury of £20billion over the past decade.

The figure was revealed by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) after an estimated £2.1bn was added to that total in 2014/15.

And retailers in Coventry are worried that possible changes to the size and branding of packaging could lead to even more illegal products being smuggled in to the country.

Around ten per cent of cigarettes and 35 per cent of roll-your-own tobacco were smuggled into the UK in the past year, with many ending up on the shelves of shops and outlets up and down the country.

A recent undercover investigation in Coventry by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) found 13 shops selling illegal cigarettes or tobacco, which had no UK tax duty paid on them.

Many of the products recovered were also found to be counterfeit.

And Narinda Sharda, who runs Earlsdon News, believes there could soon be even more smuggled products doing the rounds in the coming months.

He said: “I’m concerned that illegal products can have a detrimental effect on traders, government duty and there’s also the health issue.

“There is talk of there being bans on packs of more than 20 cigarettes and also 20g bags of tobacco only and I think this could lead to more and more people smuggling in to the country.

“It could see people splitting the larger bags of tobacco in to smaller ones to sell on and also people bringing in packs of say 19, 18 or 17 cigarettes to sell as they would be cheaper.

“For some retailers you already have regular customers suddenly not turning up for a couple of weeks as someone they know has bought cigarettes in to the country and then they come back again.

“Also, some tobacco that comes in to the country can sometimes have other things in it, so people that smoke them could be inhaling something they might not want to.”

Steve Wilkins, JTI’s anti-illegal trade operations director, is also concerned that more children could take up smoking as smugglers have no qualms, unlike retailers, on who they sell their products to.

He said: “The vast majority of retailers are the ‘gatekeepers’ for age-restricted products and they help to ensure that children do not get hold of tobacco products.

“Unfortunately, the criminals who sell illegal tobacco within our communities do not operate a ‘no ID, no sale’ policy and will sell to all-comers, including children.”

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