The damaging impact of illicit tobacco sales on local communities has been laid bare by a new survey which reveals that almost 60% of retailers are aware of illicit tobacco being sold in their communities, while more than 80% believe it poses a threat to their business.
The survey of hundreds of Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance (TRA) members also found that 13% of retailers are considering closure as a result of the impact of lost tobacco sales on their businesses, as smokers buy from cheaper illicit sources.
Independent retailer Dev Aswani of Jasmines in Brynhyfryd, Swansea, told C-Store he was “worried” about what the future would hold for his 24-year-old business. “Tobacco accounts for around 40% of my sales but I am losing more and more of them to cheaper illicit products. I know this as my rolling paper sales are high while loose tobacco sales are in decline,” he said.
“But sales have picked up a little in the last month due to all the problems at the French ferry ports and Eurotunnel which meant it has been much harder for criminals to smuggle their illicit hoards.”
The survey also found that almost one in four store owners have considered reducing staff due to the impact of the illicit trade on their business.
A large number of retailers are also being targeted by illicit tobacco dealers, with almost one in five saying they have been approached by someone asking them to sell smuggled or counterfeit tobacco products in their stores.
Blackburn retailer and TRA national spokesman Suleman Khonat said: “Every pack of cigarettes sold by these unscrupulous traders means one less sold by legitimate independent retailers - putting many small businesses, which are at the heart of their communities, under real threat of closure.”
Almost 40% of UK rolling tobacco sales are illicit, according to mid-point estimates from the 2014 edition of HMRC’s Measuring Tax Gaps survey, while illicit products account for 9% of UK cigarette sales.
“We notice spikes in sales of rolling papers at certain times of the year but our tobacco sales don’t rise with them so we assume it means that illicit tobacco is being distributed locally.”
Samantha Coldbeck, Wharfedale Premier, Hull
“Tobacco accounts for around 30% of my sales so of course illicit products are a worry. The growing number of pricemarked and smaller packs are helping us to fight back a little for now.”
Sat Deo, Costcutter Wath and Maltby, Rotherham
Retailers urged to report offences
The TRA report also highlighted the need for retailers to step up their reporting of illicit tobacco in their communities. Of those who said they were aware of it being sold, only 47% have reported it in the last 12 months.
Last month Crimestoppers launched a four-week radio and social media campaign to boost reporting in three target areas. The campaign led to a significant jump in reports, with 23 made in the two weeks following the campaign - up from just five in the two weeks prior to launch.
Retailers can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.