One in five packets of cigarettes smoked in Ireland last year were either illegal or imported legally from abroad.
The latest annual survey by Revenue estimates that 13% of all packs smoked in Ireland in 2018 were illegal, the same rate as in 2017. The average across the EU is 10.4%.
A further 9% of cigarettes in 2018 were classified as legal, cross-border purchases, also the same level as the previous year.
The research also highlighted a large increase in the level of illegal packs of roll-your-own tobacco in use during 2018.
Revenue estimates that the sale of illegal cigarettes represented a potential loss of €211m to the exchequer in excise and Vat last year. Approximately 435m cigarettes, or 23m packs, were illegal.
The tax authorities estimate that total annual cigarette consumption in Ireland is 3.7bn cigarettes, or 185m packs. According to Revenue, 78% of illegal cigarettes are normal commercial brands that have been bought duty-paid or duty-free in other countries and smuggled into the Republic.
A further 21% are classified as “illicit whites”, cigarettes manufactured to be sold illegally in another market, while 1% are considered counterfeit.
“The 2018 results suggest numbers of both illegal and legal, non-Irish, duty-paid packs are stable and still below the highest levels recorded in 2009-2011,” Revenue said.
The level of illegal cigarettes reached their peak in 2009, when they constituted 16% of all packs here, with an estimated loss of €285m in foregone excise and Vat.
Separate research on roll-your-own tobacco found 21% of packs consumed last year were illegal, while a further 7% were imported legally from outside the Republic. In contrast, the levels in 2017 were 15% and 4%, respectively.
Last year, Revenue and Customs official uncovered the first-ever, illegal cigarette manufacturing plant in the Republic: a factory capable of producing 250,000 cigarettes per hour was uncovered in a barn in Jenkinstown, Co Louth; 77 tonnes of illicit tobacco were found, including 23m cigarettes.
Overall, there were 5,339 seizures of illegal cigarettes and tobacco last year, with a combined value of almost €42.3m. There were 74 convictions for tobacco-related offences during 2018, including 16 for smuggling.
Ireland has one of the highest tax rates on tobacco products in the EU, with 79% of the retail price of a packet of cigarettes going to the exchequer.