Retailers are increasing their calls for a tax break on tobacco as new figures suggest that the government’s strategy to cut down on smuggling has failed.
A new report from the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed that despite hundreds of millions of additional pounds being spent on HM Revenue and Customs’ strategy to reduce smuggling, progress has been static during the past two years.
Now Retailers Against Smuggling (RAS) is demanding tax cuts to bring UK prices into line with the rest of the EU and reduce the incentive to smugglers. Audrey Wales, national spokeswoman for RAS, said: “We support the work of
Revenue & Customs and are pleased that the NAO has found that the difficult task of reducing smuggling is taken seriously.
“However, the fact the level of tobacco smuggling has stayed at 15% over the past two years suggests the root cause of the problem is not being tackled.”
RAS, the campaign arm of the Tobacco Alliance, launched a new poster initiative this week, which is aimed directly at consumers for the first time, to discourage smokers from buying smuggled tobacco.
The ‘Don’t be tempted…’ campaign informs consumers that they are committing a crime and are at risk of prosecution if they buy cigarettes from street vendors, markets and car boot sales.
Shop window posters will be distributed to tens of thousands retailers across the country over the next fortnight.
The NAO report shows that, although Revenue & Customs has succeeded in reducing the level of illicit tobacco sales from 21% of the total market to 15% since March 2000, the size of the illicit market has plateaued over the past two years.
The report said that the department would now have to rethink its strategy to reach its 13% target by March 2008.
Had an additional £211m funding and resources not been applied since 2000, it is thought that smuggled cigarettes would now account for 35% of the United Kingdom market.
However, the report from the NAO warned that the additional activity to counter smuggling has resulted in the emergence of increasingly sophisticated gangs together with an increase in sales of counterfeit tobacco and smuggled hand-rolled tobacco products.
Fiona McLelland