smoking cigarette tobacco

JTI (Japan Tobacco International), has undertaken another round of test purchasing, with the results demonstrating again that illegal tobacco and vapes are widely available in stores across the UK.

Of the 186 stores visited this spring, just over half of them (96) were found selling a mixture of illegal cigarettes, roll your own (RYO) tobacco or vapes.

During the operation, counterfeit RYO was bought for as little as £3.50 a pack, less than a tenth of the price of the genuine product. Over-filled vapes, typically declaring themselves to have 3,500 puff capacities, were also purchased. All the information JTI UK gathered was made available to HMRC and trading standards in the anticipation that they would carry out enforcement action and prosecutions.

JTI said this is essential, as last month the minister responsible for tobacco duty, Gareth Davies, 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 fact.”

This month, HMRC will publish its latest estimates of the ‘tax gap’ resulting from the sale of illegal tobacco, adding to the £51.3bn in tax revenue already lost since 2000.

Ian Howell, Fiscal and Regulatory Affairs Manager at JTI, commented: “We have always carried out test purchasing for illegal tobacco products, but last year we started adding in vapes. 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.

“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.

“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 can report them by calling trading standards through the Citizen Advice consumer helpline on 080 8223 1133.