RETAILERS' PROFITS BLIGHTED BY SMUGGLING Ask independent retailers how tobacco smuggling has impacted their businesses ­ as we did with an exclusive survey this week (see opposite) ­ and you will hear a depressingly familiar tale of small businesses struggling to cope with criminal activity without any support from the authorities. Some retailers told us how smuggled cigarettes were being sold openly on local markets under the noses of the police. One even revealed how local gangs were threatening retailers who refused to buy bootlegged tobacco products. Our researchers heard how sales of cigarette papers were going through the roof ­ while their sales of tobacco had slumped. And they were told how even "respectable" citizens were quite happy to buy illegal tobacco and cigarettes ­ because they were not "stolen goods". The overwhelming majority of retailers ­ 85% ­ said their business was down because of smuggling. And 60% said the smuggling problem had got worse in the past year. With feelings running high among independents, it's little wonder that those retailers we contacted for our poll were split on the issue of whether duty paid marks would really help stamp out the evil of tobacco smuggling. Some felt duty paid marks would make very little difference because so much black market stuff was sold from under the counter to known contacts ­ away from the prying eyes of Customs officers. So what's to be done? Well, the retailers we contacted knew that the only way to sort out this problem was to cut UK duty rates. Tragically, we all realise this government doesn't want to know ­ even though it's supposedly "tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime". {{NEWS }}