The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has welcomed a new inquiry launched by an all-party committee of MPs into tobacco smuggling in the UK.
The Home Affairs Committee inquiry comes after a report from the National Audit Office revealed that HM Revenue & Customs had failed to meet any of its operational targets in 2012-13 and is unlikely to achieve its plan to prevent £1.4bn in revenue being lost to tobacco smuggling.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We welcome this important inquiry. It is not good enough that the Government has missed its own targets for reducing tobacco smuggling this year. It is time for a rethink about the resources available to police and trading standards in prioritising the detection and closing down the criminal operations that blight our communities and damage the livelihoods of legitimate retailers.”
The inquiry will consider what could and should be done to reduce tobacco smuggling, and to disrupt the illegal trade in tobacco within the UK, including:
• Why the number of arrests, prosecutions and convictions for tobacco smuggling have fallen over the past three years;
• Why Border Force failed to meet its operational targets for tobacco seizure in 2012–13;
• Whether the current sanctions and penalties for tobacco smuggling are appropriate;
• The similarities and differences in patterns of tobacco smuggling in the UK and Ireland, how they affect on each other, and the implications of the restrictions on National Crime Agency operations in Northern Ireland;
• The possible impact of the introduction of standardised packaging in Ireland on the quantity and availability of illegal tobacco in the UK; and
• The relationship between tobacco smuggling, organised crime and paramilitary activity.
Committee chair Keith Vaz MP said: “The UK has one of the highest rates of tobacco duty in the EU, which makes it one of the most lucrative markets for smugglers. The role of Border Force is therefore vital in reducing the supply of illicit tobacco. We will be looking at the scale of the problem and what more can be done to tackle it.”