The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has responded to the publication of the Government’s new Tobacco Strategy, calling for more powers to tackle the illicit trade locally in addition to the national measures set out in the document.
The strategy commits to the following measures at a national level:
• continue to work with other EU member states on implementation of the track and trace and security marking requirements of the Tobacco Products Directive and the WHO FCTC Illicit Trade Protocol;
• improve the use of sanctions to address tobacco fraud, in particular for repeat offenders;
• continue engagement with the media to raise awareness of tobacco duty evasion, its effect on society and the consequences for those involved in the fraud; and
• ratify and implement the WHO FCTC Protocol on Illicit Tobacco as soon as the required legislation has been approved by Parliament.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “The illicit trade in tobacco harms legitimate retailers trading in communities across the UK. While we welcome the Government’s national focus on addressing the challenges brought about by the illicit trade, we believe that local enforcement authorities should be given more powers to deal with those who supply and sell illicit goods.”
In a submission to Government earlier this year, ACS raised concerns that while all trading standards officers’ work includes tackling the illicit tobacco trade, the most common action taken against those selling illicit tobacco was giving verbal or written warnings rather than fines or banning orders that can be a far more effective deterrent. The submission was in response to a consultation on the introduction of a tobacco licensing scheme in England, which has not featured in the strategy document.
Lowman added: “We do not believe that tobacco licensing is an effective deterrent to the illicit trade, and would only serve to impose unnecessary additional financial and administrative burdens on retailers. The Government should focus on effective measures to tackle the illicit trade which must include a local approach in addition to seizures at our borders.”
According to the Department of Health, the illicit tobacco market is estimated to have cost the Treasury over £2.4bn in lost revenue in 2015/16.
Elsewhere in the Strategy, there is a commitment to maintaining a ‘robust tax regime’ for tobacco, but it is acknowledged that tax policy is a matter for the Treasury and that taxation will be kept under review as part of the usual Budget process.