Illegal tobacco trade “makes £29m profit”

Around 350 million cigarettes are sold annually without paying duty, almost half illegally, the company behind Gallaher’s Tobacco in Ballymena said.

In many cases no arrests are possible because no-one is apprehended with the containers of cigarettes, Japan Tobacco International told a House of Commons hearing.

Handcufss put on cigarettes

Handcufss put on cigarettes

The hearing is part of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee’s inquiry into fuel laundering and other smuggling and illegal trading by organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland.

Paul Williams, head of corporate affairs at Japan Tobacco International, said: “If you look at the average price that would be sold at on the streets, that is the equivalent of a £29m profit in 12 months.”

He said the criminals were opportunists, taking advantage of the recent increase in the cost of cigarettes as well as the wider economic woe to offer black market product.

“It challenges people’s moral compass as to whether they decide to buy an illicit make as opposed to buying a legitimate make,” Mr Williams said.

He added it was of huge concern to his business.

Mr Williams said smokers in Northern Ireland consume around two billion cigarettes a year and 17%, or 350 million, of them are non-duty paid, meaning a revenue loss of £85m.

Tom O’Caroll, director of corporate affairs at Calor Gas Northern Ireland, also said gangs could be making up to £2m a year from potentially unsafe refills.

“We would certainly be of the opinion that that is a figure that is on the increase,” he said.

Calor Gas is one of the largest suppliers of bottled gas in Northern Ireland and is subject to considerable regulation when refilling pressurised gas canisters.

The firm has said illegal gangs can make money by obtaining used canisters and refilling them themselves, without the same safety checks.

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