As the new year approaches, many people will be trying to give up smoking. Apart from the obvious health hazards, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) would like to suggest a few more reasons to stop:
- up to 19% of cigarettes smoked in the UK are illicit – either smuggled or counterfeit, often both;
- if you buy cheap cigarettes chances are you will be ripped off as they will be fake – in 2005/06, 51% of all major seizures were counterfeit.
- tests have shown that counterfeit cigarettes may contain higher concentrations of harmful substances than their genuine counterparts including:
- Three times more arsenic
- Five times more cadmium
- 5.8 times more lead
- 160% more tar
- 80% more nicotine
- 133% more carbon monoxide
- it is normally impossible to tell a counterfeit pack of cigarettes from a genuine one – until you try to smoke one, that is! Counterfeit cigarettes often taste so unpleasant as to be virtually unsmokable;
- the illicit cigarette trade funds serious organised crime, including the drugs trade and people smuggling. Suppliers of smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes are often large international criminal gangs, making huge profits;
- an illicit tobacco market allows low level criminality to gain a foothold in a community;
- the illicit cigarette market will undercut honest traders and can drive them out of business – or force them to participate; and
- the illicit cigarette market is wholly unregulated – smugglers don’t care if their customers are children.
HMRC has already significantly reduced the problem of illicit tobacco, seizing billions of cigarettes, securing numerous convictions and confiscating millions of pounds in the process. Major successes in the past year include:
- 53 million counterfeit cigarettes seized at Felixstowe, Suffolk over a three week period;
- the introduction of new penalties of up to £5m for tobacco manufacturers who aid smuggling;
- the dismantling of an illegal cigarette factory in Stevenage, Hertfordshire;
- the jailing of seven people for a total of 25 years in August for their involvement in the smuggling of cigarettes and alcohol worth over £7 million;
- the forfeiture of £18,000 from an Edinburgh tobacco smuggler under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002; and
- the jailing of a man for five years following an extradition from Greece for smuggling 40 million cigarettes through Felixstowe.
Anyone with information about illegal tobacco sales can contact the Customs Confidential Hotline on 0800 59 5000.
Notes to editors
1.Full details about all the cases referred to above, and more, are available at https://www.gnn.gov.uk/environment/hmrc/
2.Further facts and figures on tobacco smuggling are available in the HMRC annual report, at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/about/reports.htm
3.In 2004/5 Illicit cigarettes cost the UK economy between £1.2 and to £2.5bn
4.Tips on giving up are available at: www.givingupsmoking.co.uk
5.Further information on counterfeit cigarettes can be found at