Industry sources estimate that 25-30% of all tobacco smoked in the UK comes from non-legitimate sources, either smuggled or counterfeit. And when you add to that the huge number of cigarettes stolen in burglaries or robberies on convenience stores and then sold on the open market, you can see why calls to tackle the illicit supply chain for tobacco are being raised in all corners.
Cancer Research estimates that 4,000 premature deaths a year can be attributed to smuggled tobacco, while the Trading Standards Institute's (TSI) submission to the recent consultation calls for increased resources for Customs (HMRC) and trading standards teams to tackle the illicit supply chain.
TSI states that illicit tobacco costs the taxpayer £3bn a year in lost duty, and also "has a major role in supplying young children, who find it increasingly difficult to buy from legitimate outlets". The submission goes on to say that the illicit trade "seriously undermines the effect of high taxation as a means of reducing consumption, and is frequently associated with other criminal activity".
Much could be done to improve the efficiency of the enforcement regime against the illicit tobacco trade. For example, the already-stretched HMRC targets tobacco smugglers, while counterfeiting is the responsibility of trading standards. So how about counterfeit tobacco that hasn't had duty paid on it? That's anybody's guess.
Ian Macintyre, who runs a traditional confectioner and tobacconist store in Tarbert, Argyll, wrote to the Scottish Parliament's consultation on tobacco control, quoting from the Trading Standards submission.
He wrote: "It seems abundantly clear that the government should concentrate its efforts on the eradication of the illegal tobacco trade. As well as being guilty of supplying to underaged persons, and posing a greater health risk through imitation product, the huge loss of unpaid tobacco duty to the Exchequer demands that government takes action to eliminate this illegal trade."
He contrasts this approach with the proposal to ban displays, pointing out that despite asking several shopfitters, he has been unable to even get a quote for an under-the-counter storage device for tobacco. His own estimate puts the initial capital cost of removing tobacco from display as £2,000-£4,000 and he says he is unlikely to find a replacement display unit provided by suppliers.
Lincolnshire retailer David Ward gave his copy of Convenience Store to local MP Edward Leigh when he turned up for an impromptu store visit at the post office in East Barkwith, near Market Rasen.
"I had been trying for six months to meet with my MP in person, and then he turned up out of the blue," says David. "I spoke to him for 20 minutes about the plight of small shops, and the new measures such as the ban on tobacco displays. He was taken aback that it was even being considered. So I gave him a copy of the magazine to look at."
The official response to the tobacco consultation is due to be published in late November or early December. Campaigners will then be able to see if their arguments to retain tobacco displays have had any effect.
Convenience Store will continue to push for tobacco displays to be allowed to remain in stores, and to call for more action to reduce the incidence of illegally sourced tobacco products being sold to UK consumers.