Morecambe’s illegal tobacco trade busted by test shoppers

David Morris with bags of illegal tobacco shown to him as part of a crackdown on non-UK duty paid products.
David Morris with bags of illegal tobacco shown to him as part of a crackdown on non-UK duty paid products.

An investigation is under way after test shoppers found tobacco was being illegally sold in Morecambe.

A global cigarette firm bought non-duty paid tobacco at locations across Morecambe and will hand the evidence to Trading Standards.

The tobacco and cigarettes haul is thought to include counterfeit versions of genuine tobacco brands and products made specifically to be smuggled into the UK to avoid paying tax and sold on illegally, also known as illicit whites.

David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, also saw the evidence for himself and said he was “extremely shocked” at the extent of the illegal tobacco trade.

The test purchases were carried out by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) whose brands include Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut.

A JTI spokesman said: “The impact of the illicit trade in tobacco on society is far reaching and members of the public, retailers, suppliers and the Government all have a role to play to combat the issue. Criminals who deal in illegal tobacco will sell to all-comers, including children. JTI fully supports any efforts to rid our streets of illegal tobacco and stop criminals infiltrating our communities.

“Law enforcement agencies across the world have identified links between tobacco smuggling and globalised crime. The man or woman in the street who sells illegal cigarettes could be the front for a criminal supply chain that can span the globe. The £5 spent by a smoker on illegal cigarettes in Morecambe today can potentially fund major global criminals and terrorist organisations tomorrow.”

The evidence gathered can be used to secure convictions with penalties of up to a seven year custodial sentence.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC)’s mid-point estimates show that, in 2013/14, £2.1bn in tax revenue was lost because of tobacco smuggling.

A recent report called ‘Project Sun’ estimated that 20% of cigarettes smoked in the North West of England were non-UK duty paid, in line with the UK average of 21%.

Since the start of 2014 Lancashire County Council Trading Standards has prosecuted 58 illegal tobacco traders across the county, which includes two prosecutions relating to a shop in Morecambe.

Anybody with information about illegal tobacco in Morecambe and Lunesdale should contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111 or at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.