The Department of Health has revealed that HMRC are “monitoring” the counterfeiting of plain pack cigarettes following an investigation by Retail Express.

In November, Retail Express first exposed the sale of counterfeit plain packs at RRP across the UK to unsuspecting consumers. The discovery adds weight to HMRC’s earlier claims that plain packaging would make counterfeiting cheaper and easier, and also allow organised crime to infiltrate the wholesale market and sell to unsuspecting retailers.

The Tobacco Retailer’s Alliance responded by writing to HMRC and the Department of Health to warn that “through no fault of their own, independent shops will unknowingly become complicit in the illicit tobacco trade and face possible prosecution.”

Department of Health spokesperson Kathy O’Rourke responded: “HMRC is monitoring the situation to identify whether standardised packaging has changed the circumstances of the fraud, and if a different operational response is needed.”

However, TRA spokesperson Suleman Khonat said the response shows that the DoH is “entirely unwilling to face up to its responsibilities and passing the buck to anyone it can.”

He added: “This is classic example of a policy pushed by the health lobby with little regard for retailers. Their response, as the ultimate owners of the plain packaging policy, is entirely inadequate.”

Since the investigation, further retailers have come forward to tell Retail Express that they to know of counterfeit plain packs being sold in their area.

Kate Pike, co-ordinator for Trading Standards North West, previously told Retail Express that the selling of counterfeits at or above RRP is “another headache” and  “A big departure from current behaviour.”