Almost 30% of UK smokers now regularly buy tobacco products from cheaper “non-shop sources” such as from abroad, from friends and family, online, and in pubs and car boot sales, a major new survey of over 12,000 adult smokers has revealed.
The survey, carried out on behalf of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association (TMA) by Mitchla Marketing/Survey Sampling International, also received input from law enforcement officials.
Almost 20% of adult smokers now regularly buy tobacco from abroad, while 7% buy it from friends and family, 5% buy it online and in pubs, followed by markets and car boot sales.
The shift towards cheaper “non shop” sources was being driven by UK prices – the highest of all 28 EU member states.
When buying from a “non shop source,” smokers were also found to buy large quantities, with 23% buying at least 200 cigarettes every time.
The surge in “non-shop” sources loses the Treasury an estimated £2.1bn of tax revenue each year because of the shift to non-UK duty paid products.
A further £500m is lost to cross border shopping each year, with just under 20% of UK smokers now regularly buying their tobacco from abroad to avoid paying UK duty.
The survey also found that 51% of UK smokers travelling abroad this holiday season plan to bring back as much tobacco as they legally can - although 47% do not actually know what the limit is.
Much of this tobacco is also thought to be sold on to friends and family.
In a bid to prevent tobacco from abroad being sold on in the UK, the TMA launched a new advertising campaign at UK airports in July.
The campaign reminds passengers that bringing tobacco products into the UK and selling them on is a criminal offence and adverts have been strategically placed in departure areas.
Giles Roca, director general of the TMA said: “This survey shows that excessive taxation on tobacco products is forcing up prices and driving consumers away from legitimate sources.
“This is clear proof that the government’s high tax tobacco policy is not working. It must review its high tobacco tax policy as a matter of urgency.”