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Illegal tobacco products in Brighton and Hove are ‘lining pockets’ of gangs
5:00am Friday 7th February 2014 in News
Illegal cigarettes and tobacco products are lining the pockets of organised crime gangs across the globe.
Smokers in Brighton and Hove who choose to buy Non-UK duty paid (NUKDP) cigarettes from shops, bootsales and markets are being warned that they are funding criminal operations at home and abroad.
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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Last week this newspaper handed Brighton Trading Standards ten illegal tobacco products bought from various shops and individuals across the city in just one day.
We can’t reveal the names of sellers due to the ongoing investigation – but all products were found to be NUKDP.
Some fake cigarettes are found to contain rat droppings, insects and faeces.
Crime agency Europol says organised criminals are turning to cigarette and tobacco smuggling because of its lower penalties and larger profits.
And because the UK has among the highest tobacco duty rates in the EU, smugglers are targeting the country in an attempt to lure cash-strapped smokers to buy cheap and potentially dangerous cigarettes.
In 2010 a gang of smugglers tried to conceal millions of counterfeit cigarettes into Sussex disguised as ice cream, yoghurt and frozen pizza. Lorries in Newhaven and another in Dover were stopped with illegal cigarettes worth nearly £3 million. The gang’s ringleader was sentenced in 2012 to more than six years in jail.
But buying cheap cigarettes does more than just fund criminals in the UK.
The United Nations Security Council’s investigative body found millions of pounds in illicit tobacco revenues are also reaching terror groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Mark Yexley, of JTI, said: “Law enforcement agencies across the world have identified links between tobacco smuggling and globalised crime.
“The man or woman in the street who sells illegal cigarettes could be the front for a criminal supply chain that can span the globe.
“The £5 spent by a smoker on illegal cigarettes in Brighton today can potentially fund major global criminals and terrorist organisations tomorrow.”
A spokeswoman from HMRC said the public and retailers play a vital role in the fight against tobacco fraud.
She said: “We urge people to come forward and let us know if they have information about the smuggling, sale, transport, or storage of illicit tobacco by calling the customs hotline on 0800 59 5000.”
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