Retailers are struggling to maintain their tobacco sales throughout the extended bank holiday season, which has sparked a “great getaway” and an explosion of car boot sales – notorious for their ties with the illicit tobacco trade. 

HMRC spokeswoman Jennie Kendall told C-Store: “The car boot season really springs into life at Easter, and any increase in the opportunity to sell illicit product impacts on retailers.” 

Independent retailer Mandeep Singh told C-Store that sales in one of his three Premier stores in Sheffi eld had slumped by 35% over the Easter break. “This store is located within a housing estate and over the holiday period people take off to visit car boot sales and markets in Skegness, which is a well-known centre for illicit tobacco,” he said. 

The string of bank holidays has also prompted millions of Brits to jet off abroad, contributing to the fall in legitimate sales as adult smokers take the opportunity to stock up on cheap foreign tobacco. 

According to the Association of British Travel Agents, more than two million British holidaymakers spent Easter abroad this year. The organisation said that Spain, where the average pack of 20 cigarettes costs less than £3, was the most popular destination. 

“Many retailers will have seen a dip in tobacco sales as their customers go on holiday and bring back cheaper, non-UK duty paid tobacco from abroad,” Leicester store owner and Tobacco Retailers Alliance spokesman Ken Patel said. 

Rather than face the sales slump, independent CTN owner Carl Saco from Washington, Tyne and Wear, decided to shut up shop over the Easter break. “Trade always falls off a cliff at this time of year and with the extended break I knew it would be worse than ever this year, so I decided to save on costs and close instead,” he told C-Store. 

A large quantity of illicit tobacco was seized from a car boot sale in Saredon, Staffordshire, earlier this month. In a multi-agency operation HMRC joined forces with Staffordshire Police and trading standards offi cers to seize 12,000 cigarettes and 10kg of handrolling tobacco