Test purchasing for illegal tobacco and vape products carried out by Japan Tobacco International (JTI), has found more than half of stores are flouting the laws.

Of the 186 stores visited this Spring, more than half of them (96) were found selling a mixture of illegal cigarettes, Roll Your Own (RYO) tobacco or vapes.

During the test purchasing operation, counterfeit RYO was bought for as little as £3.50 a pack, less than a tenth the price of the genuine product. Over-filled vapes, typically declaring themselves to have 3,500 puff capacities, were also purchased.

Ian Howell, fiscal and regulatory affairs manager at JTI, outlined the extent of the issue. “We have always carried out test purchasing for illegal tobacco products, but last year we started adding in vapes,” he said. “Unfortunately, the illegal sale of tobacco and now vapes seems to be everywhere and it’s very difficult to put the genie back in the bottle. A survey we did last year also showed that almost 40% of smokers admitted to buying non-domestic product in the last month.”

JTI UK made all of the test purchasing information available to HMRC and Trading Standards in the anticipation that they take forward enforcement action and prosecutions.

Howell said Trading Standards need more support in tackling the issue. “While there are new powers coming into effect later this year that will allow HMRC to issue ‘on-the-spot’ penalties of up to £10,000 against those selling illegal tobacco, it is hugely disappointing that they will not, despite earlier indications, be extended to Trading Standards where they could have the greatest impact. With the Government’s Tackling Tobacco Smuggling strategy being updated at the present time, the extension of these powers to Trading Standards is something that must be considered.”

This comes as Gareth Davies MP, recently told a Committee looking at this year’s Finance Bill that if tobacco duty increases were too high, “…it is likely to push people into the illicit trade. That is a known fact1.”

Howell also urged retailers to report illicit trade if they are aware of it in their area. “Retailers can play a vital role in combatting the illicit trade and our job at JTI UK is to ensure that they are knowledgeable and confident in communicating the dangers of illegal products to their customers. Selling illegal tobacco products and vapes supports crime and negatively impacts on the reputation of stores in the community.”

If retailers know of a store that is selling illicit tobacco or vapes, they should report them by calling Trading Standards through the Citizen Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.

For further support, retailers can reach out to JTI’s Customer Care line on 0800 163503 or visit JTI’s trade retailer website https://www.jtiadvance.co.uk/dontbecomplicit.