Illicit battle gathers pace

James Hall

Illicit tobacco, the scourge of the independent retailing sector, continues to be a huge challenge but major suppliers like Imperial Tobacco are leading from the front in support of legitimate retailers.

Illicit tobacco has long been an enormous challenge for legitimate retailers and the flux of the last year and a half has no doubt contributed to the problem – but the fightback continues and is being led by major suppliers like Imperial Tobacco.

The company has recently removed the gantries from two retailers found to be in possession of counterfeit tobacco and has also upgraded and improved its anti-illicit trade website.

The two retailers, in Bolton and Banbury, had their gantries removed by Imperial Tobacco following discovery of violations of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016. They will no longer receive any sales support from Imperial.

Mr Din of AHZ News in Bolton was convicted by magistrates for possession of counterfeit tobacco after pleading guilty to a total six offences relating to Imperial brand cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. A raid by local Trading Standards resulted in Din’s premises licence being revoked by Bolton Council and he was ordered to carry out 70 hours of unpaid work. In addition, Din was banned from being a company director for five years and ordered to pay costs of £2,000 towards Bolton Council’s prosecution costs, plus an £85 victim surcharge.

Banbury shop owner, Mr Malhotra, of Rowley’s Food, was ordered to pay back £75,000 after local Trading Standards seized nearly 3,000 illegal cigarettes. As a result of the conviction, Malhotra and the company were sentenced to fines of £2,450 each and ordered to pay £75,000, alongside £6,220.70 in prosecution costs.

James Hall (pictured), Anti-Illicit Trade Manager, Imperial Tobacco UK, comments: “We are fully supportive of law enforcement agencies in their endeavour to demonstrate that illicit tobacco trade will not be tolerated. It harms honest retailers and damages communities. We applaud the local Trading Standards teams for securing these convictions, whilst also recognising the wider success Trading Standards authorities are achieving across the UK in the ongoing fight against illegal tobacco.”

To help retailers report suspected illicit activity, Imperial has also announced the launch of its new and improved anti-illicit trade website as part of its continued ‘Suspect it? Report it!’ trade campaign to tackle illegal sales of tobacco.

The redeveloped website is set to continue as a valuable resource for information about the illegal tobacco problem in the UK, with the site containing information about the latest developments in illicit tobacco via an updated news page and Twitter feed.

Hall comments: “Illicit tobacco remains a serious problem. Between 2018-19, estimates show 8% of cigarettes and 33% of hand-rolling tobacco were non-UK duty paid, meaning the Government lost £1.9bn in tobacco tax revenue. That means that since 2000, £47bn in tax revenue has been lost as a result of non UK duty paid cigarettes or tobacco being sold in the UK.

“With many illicit tobacco sellers having links to other organised crime activities, the money raised from the sale of these ‘cheap cigarettes’ is often funnelled towards other illegal operations. It is therefore vital that staff are educated and aware of the signs, so that they, alongside the store owners, can keep a watchful eye and notify the relevant authorities.”

Hall adds: “According to recent figures, 78% of those who are aware of illicit tobacco being sold in the last 12 months haven’t reported it, with just 19% saying they did. Our aim is that this redeveloped site will help retailers to remain vigilant and raise awareness of the scale of the problem at hand. As well as keeping retailers informed, we want to encourage retailers to report any suspected sellers in their area to our salesforce through our dedicated SARA (Suspicious Activity Reporting App) trade platform, or our anti-illicit trade hotline.”

Since the site’s initial launch in 2018, there has been a steady increase in reporting, with percentage rates rising year-on-year and over 2,858 reports shared to date.

To find out more visit and follow @suspect_report on Twitter.


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