The scale of Britain’s trade in illicit tobacco trade has been demonstrated in a series of incidents which took place just weeks after MPs voted to burden legitimate retailers with the cost and disruption of a display ban.

Earlier this month the UK Border Agency announced its biggest ever seizure of smuggled cigarettes following a multi-agency sting. More than 120 million cigarettes were found on a ship off the coast of Ireland.

The haul, which had an estimated retail value of £45m, would have had a crippling impact on local economies, the Agency said.
However, some retailers believe this success may make them vulnerable, as criminals look elsewhere for supplies to sell on the black market. 

In West Sussex, 15 stores were raided in a 14-day crime spree last month, with cigarettes the gangs’ target.
One victim, Steve Denham of Spar West Chiltington, told C-Store: “The success in slowing the rate that smuggled tobacco has been entering the UK has left the criminals short of cigarettes, and they have now resorted to attacking retailers like us.”
In Staffordshire more than 33,000 counterfeit cigarettes were seized from a car boot sale in Himley, following alerts by local traders and residents.

Since the ban decision, Trading Standards has revealed that more than 30% of under-18s in deprived areas admitted buying tobacco from private homes, or ‘tab houses’.

Richard Ferry of Trading Standards North East told the BBC: “This means they start smoking earlier and they can smoke more. These people don’t care who they sell to.”

Ken Patel of the Tobacco Retailers Alliance said: “Legitimate retailers cannot compete with criminals who sell at less than half-price. Any retailer who knows of smuggled tobacco being sold should get in touch with HM Revenue and Customs and report this crime.”