Imperial Tobacco and the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) have joined forces to combat illicit trade with a new wholesale-focused instalment to the ‘Suspect it? Report it!’ Campaign. 

According to the Tobacco Retailers Alliance Survey 2015, as many as one in eight independent stores are under threat from the damage being done to sales and associated basket spend by illegal tobacco, with illicit tobacco purchases cheating UK shops out of around £3.4bn in lost revenue each year. 

In response, new posters will appear imminently across the trade press and in cash and carries across the UK, depicting a depot empty of any tobacco-buying retailers alongside the message: “Have you noticed anything’s missing?” It was inspired after evidence from Imperial’s wholesaler partners suggested sudden drops in tobacco sales in depot might indicate a spike in illegal sales in a locality. 

Peter Nelson, anti-illicit trade manager at Imperial Tobacco, said: “Wholesalers can be a valuable barometer in terms of detecting increased illicit trade and identifying whether organised criminals may potentially be targeting specific regions or communities. For instance, by using information about a drop in cash and carry sales when established retailers either markedly reduce or actually stop purchasing their tobacco products through this legitimate supply chain, tobacco manufacturers like Imperial can commence investigations. 

“We can draw on positive examples where wholesalers have reported increased sales performance following sustained enforcement action in an area. Any reports of suspicious activity provided by wholesalers and independent retailers to Imperial Tobacco’s dedicated AIT team are handled with the upmost sensitivity and passed on to the appropriate authorities.” 

James Bielby, chief executive of FWD, said: “Wholesalers are often the first to know if there is a rise in illicit trade in their area, because their own sales drop as their retail customers are selling less due to the availability of illegal product. Retailers who visit cash and carries often pass on information about illegal sources near their stores. The sooner criminal activity is detected and reported the sooner it can be stopped, and this campaign aims to remind wholesalers and retailers that any information passed on to the authorities, including unexpected drops in sales, supports the legitimate, responsible and duty-paying supply chain.” 

Wholesalers and independent retailers suspicious of products in their area can contact either the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000, or their local Trading Standards or Police services.