Retailers have called for cigarette tax harmonisation across Europe following the French government’s 20%-plus tax increase on cigarettes.

Association of Convenience Store public affairs and commercial manager James Lowman said: “If this influences other EU countries and tax in markets across Europe is addressed, it would be a major step towards tackling bootlegging. We still have Spain and Belgium with very low duty rates. It’s £1.36 a pack in Spain.”

He said he hoped the chancellor would not “throw away” this advantage by raising tobacco duty in the next Budget.

Audrey Wales, national spokeswoman for Retailers Against Smuggling, said the French move would reduce the incentive for people to smuggle cigarettes from France across the Channel.

But she warned: “This measure will not deter the highly sophisticated and organised criminal gangs smuggling thousands of cigarettes to the UK from other parts of Europe. Instead of smuggling from France, contraband will be smuggled from places like Belgium, where cigarettes cost only £2.34.”

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