Steve Wilkins, JTI’s anti-illegal trade operations director, tells George Simpson about the company’s new anti-illicit tobacco campaign.
Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has announced the launch of a new nationwide anti-illicit tobacco campaign called “Don’t Be Complicit In Illicit, which calls on retailers to join the fight against the illicit tobacco trade.
The campaign is aimed at motivating retailers and members of the public to take action against the illicit trade.
It includes a new microsite at www.jtiadvance.co.uk/DontBeComplicit which features a Report it now button giving retailers the opportunity to report to Crimestoppers anyone they know of who is involved in the illicit trade.
The site also features information on the scale of the problem and its implications for both retailers and local communities across the UK.
Don’t Be Complicit In Illicit is the latest move by JTI to fight illicit tobacco in the UK. Over the past 5 years, JTI has carried out 32 local media campaigns, raising awareness to the general public about the dangers of illegal tobacco and has removed gantries from 33 retailers found to have been selling illegal tobacco. This year the manufacturer has also supported three private prosecutions against illegal tobacco sellers, all resulting in successful convictions.
The UK government estimates that illegal tobacco makes up around 15% of the ready made cigarette market and 28% of the hand rolling tobacco market in the UK. This has resulted in £2.5bn of lost tax revenue in 2016/7, with a total revenue loss of £43.5bn since 2000/1.
“That is money which is lost to communities,” Steve Wilkins, JTI Trade Director tells Asian Trader. “None of that money which is spent on illict tobacco will go back into supporting local communities.”
The illegal tobacco trade seriously undermines legitimate business while providing criminals with huge profits, Wilkins believes. It also undermines efforts to prevent under 18s from having access to tobacco products.
Asian Trader asks Wilkins if the introduction of Plain Packaging has encouraged the growth of the illicit trade. He replies that it is too early to say. “I would describe Plain Packaging as the counterfeiters’ charter,” he continues. “Criminals now don’t have to deal with the measures against the illegal trade which previously existed when packs were branded. It is now very easy for criminals to copy the plain packs.”
There are a number of consequences of the widespread illicit trade. “The honest retailer is part of the fabric of the UK,” Wilkins explains. “Honest retailers are competing with dishonest retailers.” Some legitimate retailers are losing 50% of their business to the illicit trade. “If people are buying illicit tobacco they are no longer going into stores and buying drinks, newspapers or any other legal product,” Wilkins adds.
Unlike criminals, legitimate retailers operate a No ID No Sale policy. “Those involved in the illegal trade don’t follow the law regarding underage sales, which increases the risk to young people,” Wilkins comments.
Another issue is that counterfeit tobacco is made in poor conditions. “A lot of it comes from factories in Eastern Europe where are there no health and safety standards,” Wilkins continues. “Illicit cigarettes have been found to contain plastic, asbestos, rat droppings and even human faeces. These products are harmful to communities.”
Having served as a police officer for 33 years, Wilkins sympathises with the authorities, including Trading Standards, the police and HMRC, who are combating the illicit trade. “I’m up against the same people now combating illicit tobacco that I faced when I was a police officer,” he reveals. “These are people who are involved in drug trafficking and human trafficking.”
Last year, Border Force seized 449 million cigarettes and 236 tonnes of tobacco at the UK’s ports and airports. On top of this Trading Standards officers are active in towns and cities across the country, often using sniffer dogs to identify hidden illegal products in retail outlets.
JTI is involved in the fight against the illicit trade by providing a wealth of information to the authorities both in the UK and in Europe, including Interpol and Europol. The company provides training in how to recognise illicit tobacco and runs local media campaigns. “We are talking about people taking money from communities,” Wilkins comments. “I would implore smokers to think carefully before they buy illicit tobacco because they are lining the pockets of criminals.”
The Don’t Be Complicit campaign will be promoted via a nationwide advertising campaign in local and trade media, as well as ongoing face-to-face support from JTI field representatives.
If retailers are aware of anybody selling illicit tobacco, they should contact HMRC’s Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887, Trading Standards on 03454 04 05 06 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. All of these numbers are on the Don’t Be Complicit website. Retailers can also click on the Report it now button on the website.
Wilkins believes some retailers don’t report illicit trade, for fear of reprisals. “Illegal tobacco has become the commodity of choice for serious criminals so retailers are concerned about threats and intimidation,” he says. “It is very similar to the drugs markets.”
Globally there are 58 people at JTI who are combating the illicit trade. This team has a similar background in law enforcement and also has a sales team background, helping them understand the issues retailers face.