Some 65% of convenience stores in the Republic of Ireland are aware of black market tobacco for sale in their localities, and 60% have been offered it to sell, new research commissioned by retailer lobby group Retailers Against Smuggling (RAS) has revealed.

The second annual survey of 3,000 small Irish stores also found that 81% believed the government was not doing enough to tackle the illicit trade.

In a massive swing from last year's survey, 68% of retailers also said they were worried about the year ahead as black market sales continued to eat away at their margins up from 35% in 2009.

In Dublin, one in six stores said they had been offered illicit products to sell in the past year up from one in 10 in 2009.

More worryingly, the survey also showed that illicit product was starting to creep out of the towns and cities and into more rural areas.

Kildare, Offaly, Westmeath, Cork city and other parts of Munster were also identified as black market hotspots, and just last week 500,000 smuggled cigarettes were found in Tralee, Kerry.

Independent Kerry retailer John Healy said action to tackle the illicit trade was desperately needed. "It's deeply worrying that the illegal tobacco trade is growing and reaching places like Kerry. For so long this was confined to the large cities. We have noticed an unprecedented level of illegal selling here in the past 12 months as criminals move across the country, putting more and more retailers under serious pressure."

RAS is calling for tougher sentences and steeper fines for illicit suppliers and traders, so that Ireland would no longer be seen as a "soft touch" by criminals.