Criminalisation of buyers of illegal cigarettes to be discussed

Tue, Nov 20, 2012, 00:00

A call to make those who buy illegal cigarettes face criminal prosecution is to be made at a Dublin policing forum today.

The Revenue Commissioners estimate about 20 per cent of cigarettes consumed in Ireland are not taxed here and this figure has been increasing in recent years. In 2011 gardaí seized 109 million smuggled or counterfeit cigarettes, amounting to 23 per cent of the total cigarette market, with a value of about €900 million.

Dublin city traders and members of the city council want greater action against the trade in both smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes, which they say is supporting organised crime.

Mansion House

This morning the traders, politicians and members of the Garda will discuss the problem at a meeting of the Dublin city local business policing forum, chaired by the Lord Mayor of Dublin in the Mansion House.

The meeting will hear a call from Fine Gael leader on Dublin City Council Gerry Breen to criminalise the buying of illegal cigarettes. This would operate alongside the current provision for criminal prosecution of sellers of illegal cigarettes.

Last year there were 103 convictions for cigarette smuggling. There were 31 custodial sentences and 21 suspended sentences imposed, while the average fine was €1,185. Fines totalled €136,300.

There were also 57 convictions for illegal selling of unstamped tobacco products – generally those on which duty was not paid in any jurisdiction. In these cases the average fine was €2,883, with 13 custodial sentences imposed and a total of €115,850 in fines.

Mr Breen said the fines did not match the potential revenue from illegal cigarette sales. He said few if any sanctions other than product confiscation appear to have been taken against those buying illegal cigarettes.

Profit per carload

He will tell the forum a premium brand purchased at a normal retail price in Belarus and sold in Ireland at 50 per cent of the Irish retail price can net criminals more than €10,000 for a carload of cigarettes, rising to more than €1.5 million for a container load.

In a report last year, Revenue said the main driver of illegal sales was the price differential between cigarettes on the Irish market and elsewhere.

According to a study carried out by the Japan Tobacco Group of Companies, the price of 20 Marlboro Gold last September varied from less than €1 in Belarus to €6.20 in France and €4.50 in Spain. In Ireland the price is €9.20.

Mr Breen said the city-centre area covered by the forum was one in which many illegal cigarettes were sold. “We need to tackle this and it seems to me the best way to do it is to criminalise the buyer as well as the seller.”

Garda sources indicated last night that while it was technically an offence to have tobacco products on which duty has not been paid, consumers with small numbers of cigarettes are not prosecuted.