Stronger powers to combat illicit tobacco come into force
Tougher penalties and new sanctions to tackle the illicit tobacco market have been welcomed, as they take effect from Thursday 20th July.
More than 27 million cigarettes and 7500kg of hand-rolling tobacco were seized under Operation CeCe in its first two years, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and National Trading Standards have revealed.
This comes as new powers come into force, which could see penalties of up to £10,000 for any businesses and individuals who sell illicit tobacco products. They bolster the government’s efforts to tackle the illicit tobacco market and reduce tobacco duty fraud.
There are some operational differences across the UK in the enforcement activities undertaken by Trading Standards and local authorities. In Northern Ireland illicit tobacco sales are mainly enforced by HMRC, PSNI and local councils. The new penalties and sanctions apply UK-wide.
The new powers will also see Local Authority Trading Standards given the ability to refer cases to HMRC for further investigation. HMRC, where appropriate, will administer the penalties and ensure the appropriate sanction is applied and enforced.
Operation CeCe is a joint HMRC-National Trading Standards operation which has been working to seize illicit tobacco since January 2021.
Although large criminal gangs coordinate the supply of illicit tobacco, most illicit sales are made by small-scale operators, usually retail outlets and individuals. This makes the scale of illicit distribution difficult to contain.
High duty rates reduce the affordability of tobacco products and so support the government’s public health objective to reduce smoking prevalence, HMRC states.
‘We welcome this addition to our toolkit of measures to tackle illegal tobacco, ensuring that those who seek to profit from supplying these products face substantial penalties for doing so’
Illicit sales damage legitimate business, undermine public health and facilitate the supply of tobacco to young people.
The Federation of Independent Retailers (the Fed) welcomed the new sanctions and said it was pleased to see tougher actions now being taken.
The Fed’s national vice president, Mo Razzaq said: “We welcome these new powers and penalties as illicit tobacco is a big issue for local shops which does irreparable damage to members’ businesses and to the communities that they serve. Our livelihoods are threatened, through loss of sales and increases in anti-social behaviour.
“Our members are responsible retailers and verify the age of their customers before selling them tobacco products. Those behind the illicit trade make no such checks, happily selling their products to young people.
“But that’s not our only concern. The health and safety of people who smoke counterfeit cigarettes is seriously at risk from the highly unpleasant ingredients they can contain.”
Lead office for the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, Kate Pike added: “Trading Standards officers across the country work with colleagues in Public Health to reduce the harm from smoking and with enforcement partners to disrupt criminality in our communities.
“We welcome this addition to our toolkit of measures to tackle illegal tobacco, ensuring that those who seek to profit from supplying these products face substantial penalties for doing so, and their ability to continue to trade is severely impacted.”