If someone had said five years ago that today, one in every four cigarettes smoked in the UK was smuggled into the country, would we have believed them? Similarly, who could possibly have conceived that four out of five handrolled cigarettes in the UK would be bootlegged into the country, or that more than one and a half million pints of beer cross the channel every day, 75% of which are bootlegged. The problem is threefold: the Chancellor loses around £2.5bn a year in unpaid taxes; the bootlegging openly encourages underage smoking and drinking; and many independents' livelihoods are affected by the erosion of business. While professional and responsible retailers are doing their utmost to reduce the risk of underage selling, the bootleggers are openly flaunting the fact that anyone of any age can buy their contraband merchandise. Sales of bootlegged products are now rife throughout the UK, at pubs, clubs, vans, markets, car boot sales and door-to-door selling. Have a pint in practically any pub in the land now and you will see people smoking cigarettes that are clearly smuggled into the country. It is true that Customs has put more manpower on to the problem, the UK Duty Paid stamp has been introduced, and scanners have been installed to trace illegal products. But Customs are still fighting a losing battle. Bootlegging could even account for one in three cigarettes by 2003. We need more manpower and more prosecutions before we see any improvement and surely we must also change our rates of duty. However, the biggest problem comes from the UK public. They see this as an opportunity to get a bargain. They just don't recognise the illegality of it or the dramatic effect it can have on younger people. Even Coronation Street, recently portrayed bootlegging as an everyday occurrence. Until we change the public's perceptions, we will not win. {{NEWS }}