Shops call for tough action on illegal tobacco
NEWSAGENTS in Hull are backing calls for tougher penalties for criminals who smuggle illicit cigarettes and tobacco into the country.
Shops in the city are struggling to survive because black markets are making it hard to compete.
About 30 per cent of newsagents' revenue is made through the sale of cigarettes and tobacco.
Samantha Coldbeck, 39, of Anlaby, co-owns Wharfedale Premier convenience store in Southcoates Lane, Hull.
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She said: "Independent tobacconists and newsagents rely heavily on the sales of cigarettes and tobacco and they are being hit massively.
"More and more shops are diversifying to offer more products but many cannot afford to do that and are therefore struggling to stay afloat.
"I have a lot of friends in the industry and illegal smuggling is having a huge impact on their businesses. Until the Government realises the effect smuggling is having, not just in Hull but across the country, and introduces tougher penalties, the problem will not go away."
The Tobacco Manufacturer's Association (TMA) has now launched a national campaign to try to force the hand of the Government to introduce harsher penalties for smugglers.
Peter Osborne, of the TMA, said: "We are all paying the price of illegal tobacco, whether it's legitimate businesses that lose out, the loss of tax revenues that could pay for much-needed public services, or the associated criminality brought into communities."
"Many people do not understand how big the problem is and think it is a victimless crime.
"There is a lot of money to be made by selling illicit cigarettes and tobacco but all of that money goes straight into the pocket of the criminals when a percentage should be paid in tax and put back into the economy.
"We need to raise people's awareness of the scale of the problem and the effect it can have.
"In these tough economic times we can't blame people for looking for a cheaper deal but the impact this is having will only worsen the problem."
Mrs Coldbeck, who is a member of the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, said the Government needs to take a tougher stance on smuggling.
"The problem has become a lot more common over the years so steps have to be taken to protect legitimate businesses," she said. "I don't think people realise how prevalent smuggling is in Hull."
The association is working with trading standards, the UK Border Agency and police to tackle the problem.
The Government has backed the campaign and the TMA is urging people to sign an online petition to ensure the matter is brought to the attention of Parliament.