The Treasury is losing about £4bn a year in tobacco duty revenue and, according to Grocer Club readers, the smuggling problem is as big as it ever was, possibly even bigger. A straw poll conducted this week showed that independent retailers believed they were losing up to 40% of their potential tobacco sales because, in their opinion, Customs & Excise officials were still being hoodwinked at UK channel ports. All the retailers questioned said they knew smuggling was rife in their area and, in many cases, had firm ideas of who was responsible, but many refused to be quoted for fear of reprisals. However, none of the retailers we spoke to had ever been asked to buy contraband tobacco from smugglers. Mace retailer David Westcott from Watchet, Somerset, said the problem was still a massive one although he believed, in his area, the main focus of the smugglers was on roll your own tobacco. He said: "It's difficult to quantify exactly how much we are losing, but I would be surprised if it were less than 15% of our potential tobacco turnover. However, the biggest problem is with roll your own tobacco and we are able to assess the size of the problem. We would normally sell three, maybe four, outers of RYO tobacco a week, but in one week last month we sold eight outers. That showed the smuggled supply had dried up, albeit temporarily. "Another way is to monitor the sale of cigarette papers which, in our case, goes up and down like a yoyo." Westcott owns a café next door to his c-store business and said he had recently asked a customer to leave the premises, when he caught her trying to sell on smuggled cigarettes. He concluded: "The government says it is catching smugglers but, for every one that C&E officers apprehend, there are probably two or three getting through." John Anderson, who runs a post office and general store in Thorpe Sowerby, Cumbria, estimates his cigarette and tobacco turnover has dropped by 40% since the smuggling racket started in earnest. He said: "It is still a massive problem and I know for a fact that many of my customers purchase cigarettes and tobacco at the doorstep." Anderson said he reported a smuggler operating in the street adjacent to his shop, but claimed it was a year before action was taken, and then he was let off with warning. He believed government attempts to bolster C&E resources hadn't worked and believed the profit to be made from the illegal sale of cigarettes and tobacco was more than sufficient to encourage smugglers to take the risk. Paul Giles, from the Happy Shopper general store in Hythe, Kent, said he had lost more than 20% of his potential tobacco sales over the last three years. He said: "We're close to the channel tunnel, so are bound to suffer. The focus has been on vans, but there is a major problem with thousands of cars returning from France with cigarettes and tobacco." "The stuff might be brought back for family, friends and neighbours and sold at cost with, perhaps, some petrol money thrown in, but is that legal?" {{GROCER CLUB }}