Illicit tobacco

HMRC and the Border Force have published a “refreshed” joint strategy on clamping down on the UK’s illicit tobacco market.

Suggested measures in the report include the introduction of a registration scheme for those who deal in raw tobacco, a consultation on sanctions with other departments, agencies and groups and the creation of a cross-government ministerial group to oversee future evolution of the anti-illicit tobacco strategy.

HMRC and the Border Force said the strategy would build on the progress already made in the fight against tobacco smuggling in the past 15 years – when the first strategy to tackle illicit tobacco was introduced.

The size of the illicit cigarette market had been halved in that time, they said, and the illicit market for hand-rolling tobacco cut by a third.

Also more than 26bn cigarettes and 4,300 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco had been seized and more than 4,000 criminal prosecutions for tobacco offences instigated.

Priti Patel, exchequer secretary to the Treasury, said tobacco excise fraud was a crime that deprived the UK of £2bn every year – money which could be used to fund essential public services, including tackling the damaging impacts of tobacco itself.

“But its impact extends far beyond that. This illicit global trade also damages legitimate business, undermines public health and facilitates the supply of tobacco to young people,” she said.

“The criminality involved, including the use of the proceeds by organised gangs to fund other crimes, has a devastating effect on individuals and communities across the UK and abroad.”

Patel added that the refreshed strategy would build on the progress already being made, by looking at new ways the UK and its international partners could combat tobacco fraudsters and beat the illicit market.