13m illegal cigarettes seized from UK streets as black market booms
Investigators have seized over £7m worth of cigarettes over the past year, as the government cracks down on illegal tobacco trade on the streets.
Across England and Wales, 13 million cigarettes and 4,300 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco have been seized by authorities.
The operation, conducted by HM Revenue and Customs staff, Border Force officials, police and local authorities, involved raids on homes and shops.
The raids were conducted throughout the country, with more than 680,000 cigarettes found in a house at Banbury, Oxfordshire, following a lead on Facebook.
Meanwhile, 216,000 illegal cigarettes and 349.7kg of hand rolling tobacco was seized in Croydon, south London.
This on-the-ground action comes as part of a broader strategy, which aims to tackle the government’s “three ‘tiers’ of criminality”, with illegal factories abroad being shut down by HMRC and Border Force intercepting smuggled products and cash at the border.
As it stands, illegal trade costs the Treasury £2bn each year, and the practice has become more rife as cigarette duties increase.
The Government has followed a policy of high and increasing tobacco tax, raising tobacco duty by two per cent above the rate of inflation each year, to discourage consumption while raising revenue.
The Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, a group representing tobacco firms in governmental discussions, have stated that these tax increases have shifted consumption from the legal to the illegal tobacco market, reducing potential tax revenues.
European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) research demonstrates that 70 per cent of UK consumers buy black market tobacco products because they are cheaper than their legal counterparts.
However, Wendy Martin, Director, National Trading Standards, commented ongoing investigations: “The illegal tobacco trade harms children, wider communities and businesses and props up organised crime. That’s why I am delighted with the success of the first year of Operation CeCe, which clearly demonstrates the benefits of this new joint approach to tackling this vile trade at every level, from the street upwards.
Richard Las, Head of Operations, HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: “The ongoing collaboration between HMRC and the NTS shows how serious we are about tackling the illegal trade in tobacco. No crime is victimless.”