‘Ireland a target for cigarette smugglers’

International criminals are specifically targeting Ireland with cheap contraband cigarettes since people have less money to spend, cancer campaigners have warned.

In the wake of a massive €15m illegal tobacco haul at Dublin Port, the Irish Cancer Society said more funding is needed to police smuggling gangs.

Kathleen O’Meara, ICS head of advocacy and communications, said there also needs to be more focus on the public health impact of illegally imported cigarettes as well as the loss of revenue.

“Reducing the number of people who smoke needs to be a priority for all government departments, but without investment in the enforcement agencies who are policing our borders and working in our communities, we cannot expect to achieve this goal,” she said.

“Smuggling needs to be stopped not just because illegal tobacco reduces theDepartment of Finance’s revenue base, but because of the massive public healththreat posed by smoking.”

The ICS said the seizure of over 38m contraband cigarettes shows Ireland is being targeted by criminals who see opportunities created by the recession.

The campaigners said anti-smuggling operations in Ireland need around €8m more a year in funding to equal the UK spend, per head of population, on similar operations.

The ICS said the increased funding would pay for itself many times over in boosted revenue, which could be ploughed into anti-smoking measures.

Revenue Officer Denis Twohig said that about 14% of all cigarettes in Ireland were now illegal.

“6% of that would be normal cross-border trade — so it would be legal. So you’re talking about 14% illegal, untaxed cigarettes in the country.

“The loss to the exchequer for that would be about €250m,” he said.

The latest haul — the largest in Europe so far this year — was discovered in four 40ft maritime containers.

The Golden Eagle brand cigarettes, which originated in Vietnam, arrived in Ireland via Rotterdam specifically for the black market.

A premises was also searched after legal documentation linked the consignment with an Irish-based company.

It was the third largest seizure in Ireland — after 120m cigarettes were found in 2009 and 70m in 2001.

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