You may not realise it when you crack open your fresh pack of Marlboro Golds on a night out, but they may not be made by Marlboro at all. Meet “Buttlegging”, as the illegal trade of cigarettes has been punnily nicknamed (bootlegging and cigarette butt’s baby). Worryingly, a new report has found that 1 in every 7 cigarettes smoked in Britain is either counterfeit or smuggled in from abroad. This works out as a whopping 5.5 billion illicit cigarettes smoked by Brits last year alone.
So, move over cocaine, there’s a growing illegal trade in town, as we as a nation smoke our way through the 3rd highest amount of contraband tobacco in Europe. The illegal cigarette trade is being dubbed “the modern face of organised crime”. From the perspective of criminal bosses, this is a lucrative money-maker which yields both high rewards and relatively low risks, as the penalties for being caught are low compared to smuggling cocaine or heroin. Alarmingly, the bosses then feed the profits they make back into more serious avenues of their criminal enterprise.
But how have illicit tobacco products been flooding into the country? Purchased on the internet, they are smuggled into postal services to avoid paying duty tax. The cigs are largely making their way in from Poland, Belarus, Pakistan, and Romania. Clearly, current border control on trafficking is not up to scratch to keep up with this booming black market business, which has cost the British taxpayer a huge £1.8 Billion of lost tax revenue this year.
The alarming report comes only a few days after the 10-year anniversary of the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces in the UK, brought in on the 1st July 2007. The ban has had an enormous impact on encouraging people to kick the habit, as the number of smokers in Britain has actually been at record low levels a decade on. Whereas in 1974, a nearly half of all adults smoked, in London, this figure is down to 15.2%. Such a result demonstrates the role which law can play in enacting social change. Following from this legacy, tighter legislation now needs to be brought in on tobacco trafficking, as there is still much work to be done.
Since the illegal cigarette trade harms both the taxpayer and honest businesses, it must be stubbed out as a matter of urgency.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.