ONE in six corner shops face closure because they have lost tobacco sales to smugglers and cross-border shoppers, fresh statistics show.

A survey from the Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance found 17% of UK indies are under threat – a rise since last year when one in eight shops said they faced closure due to illicit tobacco activities. Meanwhile, 40% are now considering laying off staff because their tobacco sales have slumped.

JTI head of communications Jeremy Blackburn told Retail Express: “We need the right penalty structure to penalise the criminals doing this.”

He also said independents are the gatekeepers of age-restricted products, but the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (see RE, August 13) risks playing into smugglers’ hands. If voted through next month it would ban menthols, slims and 10-packs.

Whitstable shopkeeper Debbie Corris said the TRA’s results showed tobacco smuggling is both a serious threat to independent retailers and is getting worse.

Retailers in London, the East Midlands and the south-east faced the greatest threat, the TRA survey found.

Kam Sall of Sall’s Convenience Store in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, said: “It’s hitting the economy. There must be stricter rules and more investigations but the main target should be airports, where you see a lot of people bringing in more than they should.”

A retailer in Margate, Kent, who asked not to be named, said smuggling was not solely the preserve of organised career criminals. “At this time of year my sales drop because people go on holiday, bring back cigarettes, then sell them cheaply to their friends.”