Some 230,000 illegal cigarettes among tobacco haul in Dublin

Local shopkeepers say they are struggling to compete with black market products

A shopkeeper from Dublin  said the €210,000 seized by Revenue is only ‘a drop in the ocean’. Photograph: iStock

A shopkeeper from Dublin said the €210,000 seized by Revenue is only ‘a drop in the ocean’. Photograph: iStock

 

Revenue and Garda officers have seized illegal tobacco products worth over €210,000 on Wednesday night.

Revenue officers confiscated 230,000 cigarettes and 160 kilograms of tobacco at different locations in the Dublin 7 and 9 regions.

The search was part of an intelligence-led operation targeting a major Dublin supply and distribution network in the illicit tobacco trade.

The retail value of the contraband represents a potential loss of more than €168,000 to the Exchequer.

A 38-year-old Irish man from Dublin and a number of other individuals were interviewed. Revenue officers also seized documentation, electronic equipment, mobile phones and two vehicles.

A prosecution file will be sent to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The sale of illicit tobacco products has had an effect on a number of businesses who are struggling to compete with the price of cigarette and tobacco products on the black market.

A shopkeeper from Dublin 7, who wished not to be named, said the €210,000 seized by Revenue is only “a drop in the ocean”.

Benny Gilsenan, owner of Benny’s XL Stop and Shop on Emmet’s Street, and the spokesperson for Retailers Against Smuggling said, “It’s having a devastating effect on small shops. They cannot compete.”

He continued: “If someone can buy three packets of cigarettes for the price of one that I’m selling, why would they buy from me?”

Mr Gilsenan said this has affected the overall sale of the other products in his shop, such as water bottles, crisps and chocolates, as customers are “by-passing” his shop.

When retailers were allowed to sell 12.5 grammes of tobacco per packet, Mr Gilsenan said he sold 150 packets a week. But now that all tobacco packets are required to be sold at 30 grams each, Mr Gilsenan’s sales have suffered a sharp drop to 15 packets a week.

“This indicates to me and to everyone else that people are still buying their tobacco,” he said. “They’re not buying it in retail outlets though; they’re buying it from smugglers.”

Mr Gilsenan is forced to sell a packet of tobacco at almost €15, while illicit tobacco is sold at “anything from €4.50 to €6” he claimed.

“A third of my overall cigarette sales has gone into the hand of criminals,” he added.

Mr Gilsenan does not think the decline in tobacco and cigarette sales is caused by more people quitting smoking.

“If you want people to quit, you can’t have an anomaly,” he said.

Local Workers’ Party Councillor Eilis Ryan, however, believes that there is evidence to support that measures taken to decrease cigarette smoking are “entirely effective”.

“Every single time the Government makes it more expensive and more difficult to access cigarettes, smoking rates goes down,” she said, “and the only reason that’s not happening any more is because of lobbying from the tobacco industry.”

Ms Ryan said that tobacco companies are putting pressure on politicians to reduce the price of cigarettes, because the companies cite the increasing price of tobacco products as the reason they are “sought in the black market”. A notion that Ms Ryan disagrees with.

If smoking rates are to continue to decline, we need to take away the influence of the tobacco industry, she said.

Mr Gilsenan believes that increasing taxation on tobacco products will not solve the issue. “It will just fuel the smugglers,” he said.

Local Fianna Fáil Councillor David Costello can “understand the frustration” of shopkeepers.

“The increase in tax is there for health reasons, but if you make things too expensive people will look for alternatives, especially people from lower income backgrounds,” he said.

“You just have to walk down Moore Street to see the open selling of illegal tobacco,” said Mr Costello.

Mr Costello said a lot more needs to be done to eliminate the sale of illicit tobacco products on the black market.

“We’ve seen the effect of good, concentrated policing in the north inner city but that needs to be increased tenfold to stamp out the black market,” he said.

“Unless An Garda Síochána has the resources to deal with the trade of illegal tobacco on the black market, there’s no point in increasing the tax,” he added. “We need to be honest with ourselves. We want to educate people so they don’t smoke but the other side of the argument is that the more we increase the tax, the more we increase the demand on the black market.”

But Ms Ryan believes that “nobody should be making money off tobacco, whether it’s a local shopkeeper or a criminal gang”.

“Nobody should be making money off something that is taking people’s lives on a daily basis in Ireland,” she added.

“I don’t think that that is a perspective that should be directing policy,” she said. “Our aim should be to eliminate smoking completely from society not just the criminality associated with it.”