Illicit trade. By its very nature it’s something hidden, underhand and harmful. As such it can be difficult to assess the impact on legitimate businesses. But we know that it’s an issue. 

In 2015/16, the consumption of illicit tobacco in the UK cost the Exchequer £2.4bn in lost tax revenue – the second highest single loss to the Treasury after VAT avoidance. 

At the operational end, we know from the Scottish Anti Illicit Trade Group that a recent HMRC-led raid in Glasgow recovered 41,000 cigarettes and 7kg of hand-rolling tobacco. 

In Dundee, a sophisticated hand-rolling tobacco processing unit was uncovered during a search under warrant of a commercial unit and included machinery designed to refine coarse, loose leaf tobacco into ready-for-packaging hand-rolling tobacco. So from the big economic picture to the impact on the ground we can be sure that illicit trade is a problem: it is bringing crime into our communities and harming legitimate retail businesses. 

With these things in mind, it’s very concerning that a parliamentary motion has been lodged by an MSP which essentially says that the illicit trade is simply scaremongering by ‘the industry’. This is actually very irresponsible – any let up in efforts to combat illicit trade will only harm legitimate businesses and put money into the hands of organised crime. 

SGF is the industry-sector lead for the convenience sector on the Scottish Anti Illicit Trade Group and we will be engaging directly with MSPs to highlight the big problems with this motion and the potential damage it could do if it leads to any let-up in the fight against illicit trade.

Pete Cheema is chief executive of SGF

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