UK survey finds a third of cigarettes illicit

Man smoking no-smoking signMore than 30 per cent of cigarette packs in a sampling study carried out in Birmingham, UK, were counterfeit or sourced from illegal markets, according to a newly-published study.

The study - by Swiss company MS Intelligence - is a repeat of a sampling exercise last year which found that rate of fake or diverted packs to be around 14 per cent. This year the operatives carried out their analysis on 13,000 discarded packs from Birmingham's garbage.

Counterfeits seem to be taking up an increasingly large share of the haul of illicit haul, with diverted products from the EU - which bypass national duties - in decline. The other big growth category is so-called 'whites' - cigarettes manufactured (generally outside the EU) for the sole purpose of being smuggled into and sold illegally in another market.

For smokers buying counterfeit cigarettes is a risky business, with human excrement, asbestos, mould and dead insects found among the fake tobacco products.

The rise in illicit trade in cigarettes - which the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association (TMA) estimates costs the UK Treasury around £3.1bn a year - is one reason why the trade body is resisting current attempts in the UK to introduce mandatory plain packaging for tobacco products.

"Standardised packaging will make the work of HM Revenue and Customs, the UK Border Agency and Trading Standards harder when identifying illicit products," it said in a recent comment on the proposals.

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