HMRC and the UK Border Force have unveiled a joint strategy aimed at tackling the illicit tobacco trade in the UK.

The plans include the introduction of a registration scheme for those who deal in raw tobacco, and a consultation with other departments and law enforcement agencies. Academic research will be commissioned to try to tackle the problem internationally.

According to HMRC, illicit tobacco accounts for as much as 43% of the hand-rolling tobacco market, and 14% of the cigarette market, in the UK. It costs the UK more than £2bn per year and £30bn is lost internationally through unpaid tobacco taxes.

Priti Patel, exchequer secretary to the Treasury, said: [pull_quote_center]“The criminality involved, including the use of the proceeds by organised gangs to fund their crimes, has a devastating effect on individuals and communities across the UK and abroad.”[/pull_quote_center]

Tobacco companies welcomed the announcement, and reinforced their own commitments to combatting illicit tobacco.

British American Tobacco’s head of corporate and regulatory affairs, Ronald Ridderbeekx said that scrapping the ongoing duty escalator would be a huge benefit in the fight against the illicit trade: “To prevent illicit trade from growing further, we hope that the new Government will abandon the duty escalator,” he said.

“It is clear that the escalator accelerates illicit trade and during the years that the escalator was dropped illicit trade fell”.

JTI said that it’s own actions in removing tobacco gantries from retailers convicted for selling illegal tobacco were part of an “ongoing commitment” to supporting HMRC and Trading Standards.

A spokesperson from Imperial Tobacco said: “We are committed to working with the Government to restrict the activity of criminals who blight communities.”