MPs were called on to publicly stand against illicit tobacco at last week’s unveiling of the 2016 Smokers’ Anti-Illicit Trade Survey.

According to Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) findings, more than 70% of smokers now purchase non-duty-paid tobacco products.

Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet, told Retail Express that by ignoring the illicit trade, the Government was “playing chess with one piece”.

“The illicit trade is a far more potent and dangerous brand of crime than people realise,” he said.

“There’s very little point hiking tobacco prices to see legitimate products replaced with knock-offs. I’ll be asking my colleagues to consider this with grave seriousness.”

Hitesh Pandya, of Toni’s News in Ramsgate, said MPs refused to get involved with the tobacco industry.

“MPs are losing out by ignoring us,” he said. “They’re the people who need to be convinced now, or else billions of pounds will continue to be lost.”

Giles Roca, director general of the TMA, said an estimated 3.4 million smokers now bought their tobacco from the illicit market.

“Because of the tax on tobacco, people see it as a victimless crime,” he said.

“The problem is nationwide. The deterrents aren’t strong enough to stop people from going out and buying from illegal sources, and there’s also a gap for politicians to take a local leadership role.”

Roca outlined five moves that could potentially be used to reduce the prevalence of illicit tobacco:
Rethinking tax: “Price is a key factor driving people to illicit tobacco.”
Personal allowances: “Germany has tight restrictions on how much tobacco can be brought back from certain countries, such as those in Eastern Europe.”
Improving engagement: “We’re all aware of cuts, but we need to protect resources such as local police forces and trading standards.”
Considering sanctions: “Are the sanctions that are currently in place strong enough? There might be room for higher fines or other penalisation to be introduced.”
Code identifiers: “We could push the roll-out of new technologies that would improve authorities’ ability to check whether tobacco products are legal.”