Van load of illicit tobacco

Source: HMRC

Illicit tobacco hidden in a van

Research by tobacco company JTI into the sale of illicit tobacco has found that 61% of store test purchased in the Bolton area were selling the product.

Test purchasers acting on behalf of JTI were able to buy illicit tobacco in 19 out of the 31 stores visited in the area, with packs of illegal cigarettes on sale for as little as £4.50 – half the price of the cheapest legal product – while counterfeit 50g packs of RYO could be purchased for as little as £5.00 – around one fifth of the price of the genuine product.

This follows research conducted in the area in 2018 which found that 62% of stores visited (23 out of 37) were selling illicit tobacco.

Additional consumer research conducted for JTI also reveals that a quarter of cigarettes and half of RYO tobacco consumed last year in the North West was not subject to UK taxes, making it one of the highest regions in England for levels of non UK duty paid consumption.

These regional findings follow the recent launch of JTI’s “Postcode Calculator”– a free-to-use online tool on www.jtiadvance/DontBeComplict which enables retailers to find out how their local area is affected by illicit tobacco and raise awareness about the damaging impact illicit tobacco has on local communities across the UK. By simply entering a postcode area (e.g. BL for the Bolton area), retailers can find out how many seizures and/or prosecutions have taken place near that location since 2017, including estimates of the quantity and total value of illegal tobacco reported.

Details of the test purchases have been provided to Trading Standards and HMRC by JTI.

UK Anti-Illicit Trade Manager at JTI Ian Howell explained the scale of the problem. “Selling illegal tobacco damages legitimate business, supports criminal organisations and makes it easier for young people to get hold of tobacco products, and the results from our latest test purchasing shows how entrenched the illegal tobacco trade is in Bolton.

“JTI, along with Trading Standards, who are often supported by HMRC and the Police, is committed to helping tackle the problem of illegal tobacco in the Bolton area. Trading Standard’s ‘Keep It Out’ campaign has continued to play its part, alongside recent enforcement action - including the revocation of premises licenses for two Bolton retailers this summer. Law abiding retailers are at the front line of the fight against illicit tobacco, and therefore we urge any retailer that suspects illegal tobacco is being sold in their area to contact the relevant authorities to help root out these criminals.”

One Bolton-based retailer who did not wish to be named told that while their store didn’t have any involvement with illicit tobacco, it was a long-running issue in the area and they knew of other retailers who have been selling illicit tobacco for several years.

Report it

JTI encourages retailers or the public who are aware of anyone selling illicit tobacco to report it. This can be done using the ‘report’ feature on www.jtiadvance/DontBeComplict or by calling the HM Revenue & Customs’ Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887, Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.