LOCAL MP Ian Paisley has hosted the launch of a new report on the illegal trade in tobacco. which could help protect much-needed jobs in Ballymena.
The report ‘The Billion Pound Drop’, by tobacco manufacturer JTI, highlights how some 14.9% of cigarettes smoked in Northern Ireland avoid UK tax. This includes ‘cheap whites’ or counterfeits of well-known brands.
Counterfeit cigarettes are typically produced in China, and smuggled in to the UK by sea. These fakes are often so good that smokers cannot tell the difference until they open the pack and smoke the cigarettes. ‘Illicit’ or ‘cheap whites’ replicate elements of well-known brands, and are manufactured for the purpose of smuggling. According to the report, illegal cigarettes are often sold through a variety of informal channels including car boot sales, markets, from people’s homes, clubs and in workplaces. The illicit trade in Northern Ireland has worsened in the past year, up from 10.6% in 2011.
Typically 85% of the cost of a pack of cigarettes is tax, so with the financial pressures in today’s economic climate smokers go bargain hunting without considering the consequences as to where and how fakes are made.
Paisley said: “I was interested to hear how the illegal trade in tobacco impacts North Antrim. Illegal tobacco causes a massive loss to the public purse, it brings crime in to our communities and deprives local shops of much-needed trade. What’s more, it undermines the objectives of having high taxation on tobacco by making cheap unregulated tobacco widely available, and available to children.”
“Enforcement against criminals involved with the illegal tobacco trade needs to be improved. The penalties currently being imposed don’t fit the crime, and make no mistake this has links to organised crime.”
JTI’s Head of Corporate Affairs, Paul Williams said: “We need the available penalties for the criminals involved in the illegal tobacco trade to be properly enforced if they are going to provide any sort of deterrent.
“The Government is currently considering ‘plain’ or standardised packaging for tobacco products – if this happened, it would make cigarettes and tobacco so much easier to counterfeit. If the Government fails to reject this proposal it will be the Christmas present every tobacco smuggler is waiting for.”