Call to stub out illegal cigarettes

HOUSEHOLDERS in Boston are being urged to help stub out tobacco smuggling in the UK.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is calling on townspeople to be on the look out for traders selling smuggled cigarettes, as well as counterfeit alcohol, at what may be bargain prices.

Earlier this month, as reported in The Standard, HMRC in partnership with the police and Trading Standards officers seized 1,520 cigarettes and 88 litres of alcohol following raids at town centre stores.

The operation was part of a pilot scheme which aims to make it easier to remove liquor licences from offending retailers. If successful, it will be rolled out across the UK.

Townspeople are now being encouraged to contact HMRC if they know anyone selling cheap or duty free cigarettes and tobacco or alcohol and set the example for other communities to follow.

Stuart Crookshank, assistant director for HMRC, said: “This is not an innocent or victimless crime but one that encourages otherwise honest people to trade with criminals.

“We have active and effective teams of officers operating across Lincolnshire to disrupt this illicit trade which has a devastating impact on legitimate retailers who have to compete against the black market.

“The gangs behind this form of criminality reap huge profits which are ploughed straight back into the criminal underworld, feeding activities like drug dealing and fraud.”

The majority of the cigarette brands seized in the raids are not legally sold in the UK.

Known as cheap whites, they are effectively made purely for smuggling and often obtained in large quantities by organised crime gangs which smuggle them into the UK. It is then sold illegally in pubs, clubs and small independent shops.

Nationwide, HMRC seized around 1.7 billion cigarettes and 406 tonnes of hand rolling tobacco during 2009/10. The estimated loss to the public purse was £2b.

Much of the alcohol seized was in Boston found to be counterfeit. Forensic analysis of a number of sample bottles is currently taking place.

Mr Crookshank added: “We are keen to work closely with local residents and communities in the fight against this type of crime.”

l If you feel you can help, contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 595000 or email customs.hotlime@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.