llegal tobacco is threatening the livelihoods of law-abiding city shop owners selling authentic products.
Shop owners in Brighton and Hove have told how rival retailers and individuals selling Non-UK duty paid tobacco (NUKDP) for a fraction of the cost is harming businesses and the city’s economy.
NUKDP products include counterfeit or fake tobacco, sometimes produced in unregulated and unsafe environments, and contraband goods that have been smuggled into the country under the radar of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
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Shop owner Navin Patel, of Southern Cross newsagent in Trafalgar Road, Portslade, said shops were closing down because genuine traders were suffering.He added: “People don’t realise the affect it has on us retailers who are trying to make an honest living.
“Cigarettes in England cost £8 or so a packet. They are up to £2 abroad. People are targeting the country because of the high taxes.
“I’m losing out to firms who choose to sell illegal stuff and it hits us in the pocket.”
John Hannah, of Smokemart in London Road, Brighton, said “plenty” of people visit his shop asking for illegal products.
He said: “They ask for knock-off goods at cheaper prices and get frustrated when we say we don’t have them.
“I would say up to 50% of our tobacco and cigarette sales have gone over the course of a few years simply because so many people are now selling fake or smuggled products. It’s killing us and the people who smoke the stuff too.”
UK taxes on tobacco are among the highest in the world, leading many smokers to seek out cheaper alternatives from abroad or from the black market.
At the start of October last year a 12.5g pack of tobacco cost about £4 in the UK. In Belgium a pouch four times bigger cost £3.40.
HMRC estimates over the past 13 years up to £51.9 billion has been lost in tax revenue.
Mark Yexley, of Japan Tobacco International, 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.”
Last week this newspaper handed Brighton Trading Standards more than half a dozen examples of illegal tobacco products bought in city shops following a special investigation into the trade.
A spokeswoman from the council said it was investigating.