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Tobacco Smuggling in the UK

In the UK the latest figures available show that despite the British Government’s 10 year campaign to eradicate tobacco smuggling, the problem still costs the taxpayer an estimated £2.2 billion a year.

According to HM Revenue & Customs, “the illicit tobacco market in the UK has changed significantly since 2000. Historically it was made up of genuine UK brands of tobacco smuggled from lower-priced EU countries. Currently, it is much more a mix of genuine UK and non-UK brands of cigarettes, hand-rolling tobacco, counterfeits, and increasingly, illicit whites”.[1]

Official figures show that the proportion of genuine UK-made cigarettes being seized has fallen dramatically. In 2002/3 the figure was about 31 per cent of cigarettes being UK-made; 41 per cent being counterfeit and 46 per cent being illicit and non-UK duty paid. In 2009/10, the last year for which figures were available, the proportions had changed dramatically so only six per cent was genuine UK made, 48 per cent was counterfeit and 46 per cent illicit or non-UK made, known commonly as cheap whites. [1]

Whilst the smuggling of genuine UK-made cigarettes has declined, HMRC concedes that “smuggling of genuine UK brands continues to be a particular problem for hand-rolling tobacco, which is relatively small in volume but high in value. In 2009/10, half of HMRC and UKBA seizures of hand-rolling tobacco were genuine UK brands, with the remainder being counterfeits of UK brands (24%) and non-UK brands (26%)”.

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