Five tonnes of suspect illicit tobacco seized in UK

Raids by the authorities in the UK have netted around five tonnes of bulk tobacco suspected of being illicit.

The operation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was conducted at locations in Glasgow and uncovered what the authorities believe may be two separate production facilities for knock-off tobacco products.

HMRC officers searched five domestic premises, one commercial property, two self-storage containers and three vehicles across the Scottish city on February 21. The tobacco found is believed to be worth an estimated £1.5m (around $2m) in lost duty and taxes, and the operation also uncovered around £4,000 in cash with the help of a sniffer dog.

Four people have been arrested and charged with excise duty fraud in the operation, including a 25-year-old man and three women (aged 37, 38 and 42), all from Glasgow.

Joe Hendry, assistant director for the fraud investigation service at HMRC said: “The trade in illicit tobacco is unregulated and makes cheaper tobacco more readily available to the young and vulnerable.

“The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2.5bn a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.”

Illicit tobacco products accounted for around 9 per cent of the 31m counterfeit items seized at the EU’s borders by customs in 2017, according to figures from the European Commission.

The seizures come as the EU is preparing for the introduction of the controversial track and trace and security feature requirements for cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco mandated by the Tobacco Products Directive 2014.

As of May 20, each pack of tobacco will have to carry at least five security features, including overt, semi-covert and covert elements and a unique identifier code to allow it to be tracked from production to retailer. Retailers will sign need to register and receive two identification numbers in order to legally trade in tobacco products.

The UK government recently started a consultation process on its draft transposition of the EU law, which closes on March 11.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been vocal in its criticism of the EU’s approach to tobacco traceability, saying it does not meet the standards laid out in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Protocol and has been hijacked by the tobacco industry. The WHO is particularly concerned about national implementation of the TPD safety features requirements.

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