Four of the big players in the Irish market — JTI (Japan Tobacco International), Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International — are to fund the “Codentify” system which will track packets from their production base to the end user.
It will allow Customs officers armed with smart phone apps to immediately tell the difference between products destined to be legally sold on the Irish market and contraband.
Alec Ellis, a spokesman for JTI, said the system is already in use in Switzerland and the tobacco-producing companies supplying Ireland were anxious to introduce it here.
“The costs of the Codentify track and trace system are borne by the industry. The costs to the Government are negligible as they [Customs] would only need smartphones and an app.”
A spokesman for Customs said they would welcome the introduction of such a system, which would not only help crack down on the illicit trade in Ireland but also globally, because as more nations start to use it they will be able to exchange intelligence on smuggling operations.
A total of 40.8m illegal cigarettes and 4,543kg of roll-your-own tobacco were seized in the country last year.
Customs said that 22.7m cigarettes were confiscated after attempts to smuggle them in through the ports.
Gangs often conceal contraband tobacco within other products which are transported in containers.
The second most common point of entry was at airports, where 18.1m cigarettes were seized.
Surprisingly a further 2.8m contraband cigarettes were intercepted in the post. A lot of them came from China, but some were also from Northern Ireland.
Mr Ellis said legitimate tobacco retailers had noticed a significant decline in sales in recent years due to the extent of the illicit trade.
He said their research suggested that more than 30% of tobacco smoked in Dublin, Dundalk, Drogheda, Tralee and Cork was contraband.
However, Customs officials believe that these figures may not be accurate, and estimate the national average for the consumption of illegal tobacco is around 13%.