Illegal tobacco sales are damaging legitimate businesses and putting people’s livelihoods at risk.
That’s the message from one Wakefield newsagent after 10 shops in the district were caught selling counterfeit tobacco or smuggled cigarettes in an undercover sting by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) last month.
John Parker, from A Parker and Son newsagents on Lower Warrengate, has seen a dramatic decrease in sales over the past 18 months.
He said: “Every so often I see a surge in sales and I know there’s a shortage of duty-free tobacco in the area – then another shipment comes in and sales fall again. We have a lot of customers come in and ask if we have cheap tobacco, but when we tell them no they leave and we never see them again.
“I’ve lost a lot of business and it is difficult for us. It’s the same for many honest retailers in Wakefield. People are looking for Polish Marlboro, Jin Ling and other cheap knock offs – that is what legitimate businesses are up against and it is putting some at risk.”
HMRC estimates that from 2004–2014, £21.8 billion in tax revenue was lost because of the illegal sales. Smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes are also unregulated and often sold to children and young people.
Mark Yexley, JTI’s media relations manager, said: “Illegal tobacco products that are peddled within communities pose a risk to the future existence of the hard working convenience store owner and anyone who buys counterfeit cigarettes may be contributing to the decline of the high street. The vast majority of retailers are the gatekeepers in our community when it comes to the sale of age restricted products and we must foster a culture of ‘No ID No Sale’, so that those underage know they cannot buy from reputable outlets.”
Mr Parker added: “Cheap tobacco is freely available in shops, pubs and from people on the street. It is a difficult situation because no matter what resources are available there won’t be enough to stamp it all out.
“I don’t know what would help but something has to be done.”
To report illegal tobacco sales, call 0800 595000.