There should be more action to combat the illicit tobacco market rather than the introduction of a tobacco register, the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee at the National Assembly of Wales has been told.
Giving evidence, newsagents federation (NFRN) national president Ray Monelle, and NEC member John Parkinson, warned that any form of register or license, as proposed under the Public Health (Wales) Bill, would make little or no impact on reducing the level of illicit tobacco in the UK market.
They said responsible retailers were already burdened with an enormous amount of tobacco legislation and a tobacco register would only add to this. Such a move was also unnecessary, when compliance was already very high, they added.
The NFRN representatives advised the committee that the illicit tobacco market in the UK cost the Treasury more than £2.4bn in lost revenue and that it was growing. Retailers recognised when illicit traders were operating in their area as tobacco sales declined dramatically, directly impacting on their business as well as the Exchequer.
The committee members were also reminded that illicit tobacco was incredibly harmful to health as the products contained poisonous additives, and illegal traders were the main source for youngsters under the age of 18.
Referring to the NFRN’s response to a government consultation on the Bill, the NFRN officials said that with a proposed registration fee of £30, plus an additional £10 per new store, independent retailers would have to sell on average 111 packs of cigarettes or take £886 in cigarette sales to cover this cost.
Monelle said: “In places that have introduced a tobacco retailer register, such as Scotland, there has been no evidence to show that it has reduced the level of illicit tobacco in that area, but instead it has added even more administrative burdens on responsible, honest retailers.”
In the same week the NFRN gave evidence to the committee, it launched a new ‘Suspect It, Report It’ campaign with Imperial Tobacco against the illicit trade by distributing more than 50,000 packs, containing posters and stickers, to retailers across the UK . These urge retailers and consumers to report any suspicious activity to trading standards or the police.