Van load of illicit tobacco

Source: HMRC

Illicit tobacco hidden in a van

In its response to a HMRC consultation on the illicit tobacco trade, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has called for tougher enforcement, citing the detrimental impact that the illicit trade has on legitimate retailers.

The consultation sought views on proposals for tougher, more effective, sanctions to tackle the sale of illicit tobacco, with a focus on deterring those small-scale regular offenders who play a key role in street level distribution. It focused on the UK’s tobacco track and trace system, and extending HMRC’s traceability enforcement powers to Trading Standards officers.

Its main recommendations are:

  • Trading Standards powers should be extended to allow them to remove retailers that persistently trade in illicit tobacco products from the market by banning them from selling tobacco products
  • HMRC should develop guidance for retailers to understand the process on how and why EOIDs may be deactivated
  • HMRC should extend the use of Restricted Premise Orders, currently used for underage sales offences, to illicit tobacco offences
  • HMRC should ensure there are clear avenues for businesses to appeal the deactivation of their EOID

The ACS also suggested that investigations should go beyond retailers. It stated in its response: “We encourage trading standards officers and HMRC to broaden their outlook on sources of illicit and non-duty paid tobacco products. Convenience stores, newsagents and off-licences are not the only places that illicit or non-duty paid product is present in communities.

“However, they are the easiest places for trading standards officers to take enforcement action against because they have a visible presence in communities, are subject to regular compliance checks and trade from fixed premises. Operation Henry (OH) demonstrates that there are number of different locations where illicit tobacco is sold, including takeaways, clubs, markets, private accommodation and self-store.”

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “The illicit market is extremely damaging to legitimate retailers so we welcome the introduction of tougher sanctions and are calling for greater enforcement action to eliminate illicit sellers from the market. But HMRC and Trading standards must not solely focus on local shops to tackle the illicit tobacco problem, they must also address sources that are harder to identify and enforce against those trading illicit tobacco in communities, such as criminals selling on streets and from private dwellings.”