Committee chairman, David Stanton TD, wrote to Alan Shatter outlining the committee’s concerns and representations they had had from the National Federation of Retail Newsagents on the issue. However, it appears nothing was done and Mr Stanton said his committee would be focusing on the subject again when it reconvenes next month.
He made his comments in the wake of an undercover investigation which shows the country is awash with illegal tobacco.
It is estimated cigarette smuggling is costing the country up to €500m a year in lost revenue.
According to former garda Det Chief Supt Kevin Donohoe, who led the undercover investigation, crime gangs, including dissident republicans and loyalists, are making a fortune from the trade.
Cigarettes, known as illegal whites — fake brands such as Excellence, Palace, President, CK, Gin, Ling, and M&G — are flooding the market. They contain high levels of asbestos, lead, arsenic, traces of rat poison, and human excrement. They are manufactured in China, the United Arab Emirates, and Eastern Europe for as little as 20c a packet.
“There’s no doubt this is an extremely serious matter. We made recommendations to the minister because this is denying the Government revenue at a time when it’s really needed,” Mr Stanton said. “The US Congress listed the Real IRA as being financed by the illegal cigarette trade.”
He said the penalties for cigarette smuggling were miniscule and needed to be increased as a deterrent.
“One of the main thrusts of government policy is also to cut down on smoking. I’m even more worried about these counterfeit cigarettes coming into the country because what’s in them can be extremely dangerous.”
He said there needed to be a “multi-faceted, multi-agency approach” to tackling the issue, which had to involved customs, gardaí, and the Department of Trade.
As part of the undercover investigation, which was carried out on behalf of tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris International, operatives visited houses, pubs, and shops in search of illegal whites.
One female operative was able to buy two 20-packs of Palace cigarettes for €6 each at the Asian Spice House Grocery Store, Bridge St, Cork. Following the purchase, the Irish Examiner approached the man who sold them, who said he was Khalid Humayun, one of the owners. “I’m very sorry. Somebody gave them [to us] when they came back from holidays. [It] won’t happen any more,” he said.
The undercover team will provide gardaí with the addresses and mobile phone numbers of the people who sold them illegal and contraband tobacco during the course of their two-day operation in Cork last week.
Meanwhile, the Revenue’s Customs Service has seized 35,000 cigarettes and 12.5kg of tobacco with a retail value of over €22,200, along with 41 litres of alcohol with a value of over €1,000 during three operations in Dublin and Wexford last week.