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Smuggling controls working as illegal tobacco trade on the wane

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The crackdown on the illicit tobacco trade appears to be working, with its market share tumbling over the last four years, new research has revealed.

Smuggled tobacco now represents only nine per cent of the total North East tobacco market, according to a major tracking survey of smokers and non-smokers in the region.

The tobacco industry has released a slew of studies attempting to show that smuggling is on the rise in a bid to scupper the introduction of standardised cigarette packaging and other anti-smoking measures.

But the findings of the independent North East Illicit Tobacco Survey tally with HM Revenues & Customs (HMRC) figures showing that the illicit market has halved since the late 1990s.

Less than one in ten (nine per cent) cigarettes were illegal in 2010-11, compared to one in five (21 per cent) in 2000-01, according to official HMRC data.

The new North East study’s figures are particularly significant because the area still has a higher-than-average number of smokers.

The numbers of smokers buying illegal tobacco in the North East is on a steady downward trajectory, particularly among 16 to 34-year-olds, while those smokers who do buy illicit tobacco are buying less of it.

Smuggled tobacco made up just nine per cent of the overall tobacco market in the region, compared with 13 per cent in 2011 and 15 per cent in 2009, the study found.

The total volume of illegal tobacco bought is down 27 per cent on 2011, which was in turn down 41 per cent on 2009 – representing 192 million fewer cigarettes and hand-rolled a year, worth around £56 million in duty.

The study was commissioned by tobacco control group Fresh and the North of England Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Programme.

Researchers analysed the attitudes and buying patterns of thousands of people across the North East in communities where illegal tobacco has traditionally been a problem.

Despite the recession, a series of measures designed to crackdown on smuggled tobacco appear to be doing the trick.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy lead, said: “The tobacco industry perpetuates a myth that introducing plain, standardised packs for tobacco products would lead to an increase in the illicit market.

“The Advertising Standards Authority recently ruled that Japan Tobacco International’s claim ‘he black market in tobacco is booming’ was misleading and unsubstantiated. A recent All-Party Parliamentary Report, Trading Standards officials, and the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner, among others, have all been clear that standardised packs will not increase the illegal trade.

“The best weapons against illicit tobacco so far have been investigation of the industry itself – whose appalling record in facilitating smuggling led to new rules tightening control of the supply chain – and as this report demonstrates, a targeted approach by enforcement agencies.”

Copyright Press Association 2013