Imperial Tobacco has joined with the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) to raise awareness about the illicit trade in tobacco products in the UK.
The latest phase of the ongoing Suspect it? Report it? campaign will include posters in cash-and-carries and other distribution points, as well as advertising in the trade press, that will draw attention to the problem, which is estimated to cheat UK retailers out of around £3.4bn ($4.1bn) in revenue each year and threatens the livelihood of 1 in 8 independent stores.
The poster depicts a depot empty of any tobacco-buying retailers alongside the message: “Have you noticed anything’s missing?” It was inspired after evidence from Imperial’s wholesaler partners suggested sudden drops in tobacco sales in depot might be an indicator in a spike in illegal sales in a locality.
Imperial Tobacco's manager for anti-illicit trade (AIT) – Peter Nelson – said that wholesalers can be a "valuable barometer in terms of detecting illicit trade and identifying whether organised criminals may potentially be targeting specific regions or communities."
"Any reports of suspicious activity provided by wholesalers and independent retailers to Imperial Tobacco’s dedicated AIT team are handled with the upmost sensitivity and passed on to the appropriate authorities," he added.
James Bielby, chief executive of the FWD, added: "Wholesalers are often the first to know if there is a rise in illicit trade in their area, because their own sales drop as their retail customers are selling less due to the availability of illegal product."
"The sooner criminal activity is detected and reported the sooner it can be stopped."
News of the campaign comes shortly after 59-year-old Durham man David Hutchinson was jailed for 13 months for supplying counterfeit cigarettes to so-called 'tab houses' – illicit tobacco outlets – in the Peterlee area of the city.
Hutchinson's former partner Amanda Liu, who sold some of the tobacco products though her Chinese takeaway business received a six-month suspended sentence for her involvement in the trade, reports the Northern Echo.