For Immediate Release

Tobacco smuggling represents a serious problem for public health as well as a financial loss of tax revenue for the Government.

New evidence released today gives a better picture of smoker’s attitudes to buying illegal and counterfeit tobacco and a disturbing picture of the illicit tobacco market is emerging. Interviews with smokers across the South Wales Valleys found that 68% were more interested in cost than where their cigarettes come from.

The results also revealed that younger smokers are much more likely to purchase smuggled tobacco than older smokers with over half (52%) of 16 to 34 year olds admitting to buying cheap tobacco compared to 41% of 35 to 54 year olds, and 36% of the over 55’s.

The research, released by ASH Wales in conjunction with Swansea University, will be presented at the international Smokefree Futures Tobacco Control Conference taking place in Cardiff later today.

Tanya Buchanan, Chief Executive of ASH Wales, commented: “We have been aware for some time that smuggled tobacco is a bigger issue in more socially disadvantaged areas and this evidence further supports that. Smoking prevalence rates are already much higher in these areas and are already creating significant ill health for residents. Unfortunately, this evidence also means that measures to protect children from accessing age restricted tobacco products are being undermined by tobacco smuggling.

"It is vital that the Welsh Assembly Government’s Tobacco Control Action Plan currently being drafted addresses tobacco smuggling and that they work closely with the UK government on this issue. There is no evidence that banning the display of tobacco products behind the counter increases tobacco smuggling. Tobacco smuggling is a very complex issue and there are many factors which impact on the presence of smuggled tobacco including the presence of organised crime, effective enforcement, effective intelligence networks etc. We need a co-ordinated multi agency approach to tackle large scale organised smuggling.

"It is also important that Trading Standards across Wales are funded to conduct ongoing tobacco control operations including test purchasing and authenticity work. A register of tobacco retailers would provide an additional level of transparency about genuine tobacco retailers. It is good to know that the Welsh public are concerned about this issue with 75% of adults supporting a crackdown on tobacco smuggling.”

Other statistics released include:

  • 24% of people had bought cheap UK brand tobacco products
  • 13% of people had bought a foreign brand of cigarettes or tobacco not normally found in the UK
  • 9% of people had bought tobacco products that they knew were smuggled into the UK
  • 8% of people had bought tobacco products that they knew were fake or counterfeit

ASH Wales carried out a survey of young smokers across South Wales in 2008 which revealed that 1 in 8 young people were purchasing cigarettes at a price below the Recommended Retail Price at the time, strongly suggesting that smuggled tobacco products are widely available to young people. Furthermore, 7% of young smokers said they were able to purchase single cigarettes as cheaply as 30p per cigarette.

Since the 1990s action by UK departments, particularly HM Revenue and Customs, the Border Agency and other enforcement agencies, have reduced the proportion of smuggled cigarettes in the UK from 21-30% of the total market to approximately 13% of the total market in 2008.

Data Sources

  • The Black Market in Tobacco Products. DTZ Pieda Consulting, May 2000.
  • HM Customs & Excise Annual Report 2000-2001.
  • HM Revenue & Customs: Departmental Report, July 2008.