With the current economic uncertainty and fears over further localised or national lockdowns, it’s vital that retailers aren’t losing valuable revenue to criminals selling illegal tobacco.

As trusted members of the communities they serve, legitimate retailers are at the front line on the fight against illicit tobacco and, as a responsible tobacco manufacturer, JTI is committed to providing them with the tools they need to raise awareness about the dangers of illicit tobacco with their customers.

According to the latest estimates from HMRC, 8% of cigarettes and 33% of roll your own tobacco consumed in the UK is thought to have been purchased illegally. With strong ties to serious organised crime and with proceeds often funding other criminal ventures, the illegal tobacco trade damages local businesses and communities, as well as facilitating the supply of tobacco to young people. Left unchecked, it has the potential to have a devastating impact to retailers, consumers and wider society.

It is for this reason that we created our Postcode Calculator, and why it is such an important resource for the UK’s retailers.

JTI allows retailers to track illicit tobacco sales in their area

Launched in July, the free-to-use online tool lets retailers find out how their local area is affected by illicit tobacco and raise awareness about the damaging impact it has on local communities across the UK.

All retailers need to do is simply enter their postcode area (e.g. SE, GL, WV) into the search bar to find out how many seizures and/or prosecutions have taken place near that location since 2017, including estimates of the quantity and total value of illegal tobacco reported.

The launch of the tool is the latest step in our nationwide Don’t Be Complicit In Illicit anti-illicit tobacco campaign, which calls on retailers and consumers to join the fight against the illicit tobacco trade.

Tobacco manufacturers crack down on online illicit trade sales

Although the issue has its challenges, it is our hope that the Postcode Calculator tool will offer retailers further information that they can use to raise awareness of the scale of the issue in their area. It also demonstrates that things are being done to tackle the illegal trade – and reassures the public that reporting does lead to repercussions for the offender.

We all have a role to play in combating illegal tobacco, and the Postcode Calculator can help us visualise the threat we’re facing.

While the main focus of the new tool is to raise awareness within the trade and retail sector, we’ve put it on our website in an area that everyone can access, trade and consumers alike.

It’s not just retailers who can help fight the illicit tobacco trade. If your customers are informed and educated on the prevalence of the issue then they, too, can make a positive difference.

Local councils underprepared for illicit trade rise spurred by pandemic

Of course, we don’t expect this tool to completely solve the issue, it is simply another step towards supporting our retail partners, and we remain dedicated to doing all we can to support retailers in the fight against the illicit trade.

This has seen us take decisive action against retailers convicted of selling illegal tobacco products by removing tobacco gantries from each of their stores. In total, we’ve removed 43 gantries from retailers around the UK to date, sending a clear message to those selling, or tempted to sell, illegal tobacco products that if caught, they will face legal, financial and commercial consequences.

In addition, we also continue to support private prosecutions. The most recent of which was in September this year, when an individual selling counterfeit hand rolling tobacco through a Facebook group pleaded guilty to four offences.

Retailers play a hugely important role in educating consumers, and so our job is to ensure they are knowledgeable and confident to communicate the dangers of the illicit tobacco trade to their existing adult tobacco customers and steer them away from directly or indirectly supporting organised criminal enterprises.

JTI cracks down on illegal tobacco sellers

What you can do as a retailer?

As well as using the Postcode Calculator to find the scale of the problem in your area, I would encourage all retailers to explore the rest of JTI’s microsite, where you can find more information on the illicit tobacco market and report any instances of illegal trading anonymously to Crimestoppers.

If you are aware of anybody selling illicit tobacco, you should contact HM Revenue & Customs’ Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887, Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Our message to law-abiding retailers – who are trying to make a good living and support their local economy – is ultimately: be vigilant, and Don’t Be Complicit In Illicit

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