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    JTI test purchasing finds half of stores selling illegal tobacco or vapes

    A recent test purchasing activity undertaken by Japan Tobacco International has found that unlawful retailers continue to sell illegal tobacco and vapes across the UK.

    Of the 186 stores visited this spring, just over half of them (96) were found selling a mixture of illegal cigarettes, Roll Your Own (RYO) tobacco or vapes, the company revealed.

    During the operation, counterfeit RYO was bought for as little as £3.50 a pack, less than a tenth the price of the genuine product. Over-filled vapes, typically declaring themselves to have 3,500 puff capacities, were also purchased.

    “We have always carried out test purchasing for illegal tobacco products, but last year we started adding in vapes,” Ian Howell, fiscal and regulatory affairs manager at JTI, commented.

    “Unfortunately, the illegal sale of tobacco and now vapes seems to be everywhere and it’s very difficult to put the genie back in the bottle. A survey we did last year also showed that almost 40 per cent of smokers admitted to buying non-domestic product in the last month.”

    JTI said all the information it gathered has been made available to the HMRC and Trading Standards in the anticipation that they take forward enforcement action and prosecutions.

    The company said this is essential, as last month the minister responsible for tobacco duty, Gareth Davies, told a committee looking at this year’s Finance Bill that if tobacco duty increases were too high, “…it is likely to push people into the illicit trade. That is a known fact.”

    Howell called for giving more powers to Trading Standards to tackle the menace.

    “While there are new powers coming into effect later this year that will allow HMRC to issue ‘on-the-spot’ penalties of up to £10,000 against those selling illegal tobacco, it is hugely disappointing that they will not, despite earlier indications, be extended to Trading Standards where they could have the greatest impact,” he said.

    “With the government’s Tackling Tobacco Smuggling strategy being updated at the present time, the extension of these powers to Trading Standards is something that must be considered.”

    This month, HMRC will publish its latest estimates of the ‘tax gap’ resulting from the sale of illegal tobacco, which will only add to the £51.3 billion in tax revenue already lost since 2000.

    Howell urged retailers to take a stand against illegal tobacco and vape sales and report any instances to authorities.

    “Retailers can play a vital role in combatting the illicit trade and our job at JTI UK is to ensure that they are knowledgeable and confident in communicating the dangers of illegal products to their customers. Selling illegal tobacco products and vapes supports crime and negatively impacts on the reputation of stores in the community,” he said.

    If retailers know of a store that is selling illicit tobacco or vapes, they should report them by calling Trading Standards through the Citizen Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.

    For further support, retailers can reach out to JTI’s Customer Care line on 0800 163503 or visit JTI’s trade retailer website.

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