Retailers caught selling illicit tobacco could face fines of up to £10,000 or be forbidden from selling the tobacco thanks to stricter enforcement.
New tobacco track and trace sanctions came into force on 20 July, meaning persistent offenders would face the financial penalties, while illicit products would also be seized and destroyed.
The track and trace legislation requires retailers to have a unique code in order to legally purchase and sell tobacco. However, any business found repeatedly breaching the law will have these codes temporarily or permanently disabled, hindering their ability to sell tobacco.
The Fed’s national vice president Mo Razzaq welcomed the move. He said: “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.”
Fed national president Muntazir Dipoti added: “The illicit tobacco market has a profound and damaging effect on our businesses. But as well as undermining legitimate retailers, it costs the exchequer billions of pounds in unpaid duty. The Fed has been at the forefront when it comes to calling for action to address these issues, so we welcome the tougher sanctions that have been introduced today.”
The ACS also supported the crackdown on illicit sellers. ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “The track and trace system is essential in tracking legitimate products through the supply chain and we strongly welcome the new measures, which have been developed to tackle the illicit market.”
According to HMRC and National Trading Standards, more than 27 million illicit cigarettes and 7,500kg of hand-rolling tobacco were seized in the past two years.
HMRC’s deputy director for excise and environmental taxes, Nis Bandara, said: “These sanctions build on HMRC’s enforcement of illicit tobacco controls, will strengthen our response against those involved in street level distribution, and act as a deterrent to anyone thinking that they can make a quick and easy sale and undercut their competition.”