From: The Bristol Post
By Daniel Evans
ONE in eight cigarettes smoked in Bristol is either smuggled into the city or counterfeit, new figures have revealed.
Shops in and around Bristol are losing thousands of pounds worth of trade every year to the growing criminal business.
A recent study found that 12.5 per cent of cigarettes smoked in Bristol are either smuggled or “illicit” cigarettes – not including hand-rolled tobacco – which rose from 10.3 per cent last year.
And Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) estimates £3.1 billion is lost in revenue per year nationwide as a result of the trade.
On a local level, shopkeepers say they are missing out on profit because people are getting cheap, untaxed cigarettes and tobacco instead of buying them at full price in a shop.
Chris LeVaillant, who runs the Spar and Shell petrol station on Bath Road, Longwell Green, said: “It is obviously a major problem but it’s very hard to quantify the effect it has on a business like ours.
“What I do know is that I sell a lot more roll-up papers and filters, compared to the amount of rolling tobacco I sell. Obviously people are getting it somewhere else.”
Mr LeVaillant has run the business for 30 years and estimates that in the last decade his weekly tobacco and cigarette turnover has gone from about £10,000 to £3,500. He believes the illicit tobacco trade is one of several factors in that decline.
“Obviously, we buy all of our tobacco products from legitimate sources,” he added. “But with the amount of duty on cigarettes these days there is a big difference in price between the premium brands here and in countries in Eastern Europe.
“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of chance of people getting caught by the sound of it and I don’t know how the authorities are going to stop it.”
The four main types of cigarette crime are smuggling without paying taxes, counterfeit cigarettes bearing a trademark without the owner’s consent; domestic tax evasion and “illicit Whites” – typically produced legally but smuggled into countries where there is no legal market for them.
Latest figures used by the NHS and Bristol City Council estimate that 22.5 per cent of adults in Bristol class themselves as smokers, which is higher than the national average (21.2 per cent).
The HMRC estimates that as much as half of UK consumption of hand- rolled tobacco comes from “black market” sources.
The effect on Bristol retailers was documented by an empty, discarded pack collection survey carried out by market research company MSIntelligence.
Counterfeits of UK brands originate mostly from the Far East, with China continuing to be the major source.
Often associated with organised crime groups, they can be made in unsanitary conditions which affects their content.
Cigarettes intercepted by the UK Border Agency have contained asbestos, rat droppings, human faeces, dead flies and mould, among other substances.
And a number of “illicit white” brands have now established themselves in the UK, such as Jin Ling.
Gordon Chisholm, development officer for West Country Crimestoppers, said: “I understand that this time of year can be expensive and that people will look to tighten their belts in other ways, searching for cheaper alternatives when it comes to everyday goods and necessities.
“Cheaper cigarettes is something individuals may be tempted to try and obtain, with much of this purchased from ‘the man on the street’ or ‘the back of a van’.
“Much of this content is very often counterfeit or contains illicit tobacco, which is not only illegal to sell in this country, but can also be dangerous, as illicit tobacco can sometimes contain chemicals such as rat poison.”
Will O’Reilly, a former Scotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector, who is an expert on the problem, said: “After a number of years in decline, there has been a sharp rise in illicit cigarettes.
“That’s partly down to the economy – people can’t afford the real product – and it is easier for counterfeiters to copy the packets.”