Cigarette smuggling - Penalties are far too low

THE crime gangs, many of them former members of the Provos, running this country’s tobacco smuggling rackets are onto a good thing.

The potential profits are multiples of any penalty that might be imposed — that is if any at all is imposed on anyone involved other than an irrelevant foot soldier selling contraband cigarettes on the streets in the rain.

Being convicted of selling drugs — other than tobacco — with a street value over €13,500 carries a mandatory 10-year jail term. However, a smuggler caught with a million contraband cigarettes faces a maximum fine of €126,000.

Despite this option the average fine imposed by the courts in recent years for cigarette smuggling has been a paltry €2,833. Hardly the kind of sanction to deter smugglers who will make that kind of money in just a few days — if not hours.

Apart from the myriad health issues involved in smoking cigarettes of unknown origin — how utterly daft is that? — this has a spectacular impact on excise duties collected.

Ireland has, as part of a health-promotion policy, some of the highest cigarette prices in Europe, but it is an unfortunate consequence that policy energises the cigarette smugglers.

It is time to balance the high-cost policy with a high-penalty penalty if any real impact is to be made on this nefarious activity, one that is responsible for large numbers of young people taking up this life-defining, life-shortening affliction.

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