Fines urged for buyers of illegal tobacco

Consumers buying illegal cigarettes should receive on-the-spot fines, said a member of a body seeking a crack down on smuggled goods.

Retailers Against Smuggling launched an awareness campaign on the effects of illegal tobacco yesterday, claiming it was hurting taxpayers financially and damaging the health of consumers.

The campaign has already run a number of large advertisements in the print media on the dangers of smoking illegal cigarettes, which can include material such as rat droppings and dust.

At yesterday’s launch, which took place on Moore St, Dublin, where some illegal cigarettes are sold, Joe Barrett, director of the Applegreen retail chain, said he believed smuggled cigarettes accounted for 20% of total supply and this was having a “huge impact” on business.

“People are openly selling smuggled cigarettes,” he said, claiming one business in Clondalkin had people selling cigarettes outside the front door of the shop.

Mr Barrett also said the composition of the illegal cigarettes would also hit taxpayers in the pocket due to their health ramifications.

While smoking is already damaging for health, smuggled cigarettes can contain rat droppings, waste material, dust, and other elements, which Mr Barrett said was “far worse” than the material in a regular cigarette. “There is all sorts of stuff thrown in there, with very poor filters, and it is a very poor comparative smoke,” he said.

“We have to tackle demand and supply. A fair bit of work is being done with the police and customs. We have to make it an illegal product for customers to smoke.”

He said that meant making it a criminal offence to buy illegal cigarettes, possibly with a system of on-the-spot fines.

“If it is made an illegal act, it is more of a deterrent.”

He added stalls in places such as Moore St were “openly” selling cigarettes for as little as €2, while shops had to be licensed and registered.

Retailers Against Smuggling represents almost 3,000 retailers in the fight against the illegal cigarette trade. Its spokesman, Benny Gilsenan, said the Department of Health needed to be involved in cracking down on smuggled tobacco.

“We hope the Government will take this on board, as they are paying lip service to it at the moment,” said Mr Gilsenan.

While penalising purchasers would be difficult, he said a system of mandatory fines could work as a deterrent.

“It comes back to the Government to actually tackle it,” said Mr Gilsenan. “If they are not prepared to give gardaí powers similar to Customs, we are working with one hand tied behind our back.”

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