Irish group Retailers Against Smuggling (RAS) has called on the judicial system to better protect retailers and communities against the illicit tobacco trade by handing down tougher sentences and fines to smugglers.

The group was reacting to the publication of a report by Europol, the agency that handles criminal intelligence in the European Union, which stated that Ireland was now a "preferred destination" for cigarette smuggling due to its "low risk, high profit" status.

"This criminal activity is having a devastating effect on Irish businesses and Irish jobs," RAS spokesman Benny Gilsenan said. "The report also shows that organised criminal gangs view cigarette smuggling as an attractive alternative to drug smuggling because of lower fines and penalties."

According to RAS, the average fine handed down to tobacco smugglers in Ireland in 2010 was just over e500, despite the maximum fine being increased to e126,970 in the country's Finance Bill last year.

In 2010 Ireland's retailers collectively lost e758m to the illicit market, while the Irish Exchequer lost more than e500m.

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