Illegal tobacco on sale in city doubles in a year

Former police officer Will O'Reilly with some illicit tobacco
Former police officer Will O'Reilly with some illicit tobacco
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The amount of illegal tobacco on sale in the Capital has more than doubled in the last year, according to a new study.

Investigators snared card shops, a fruit and vegetable shop, a DVD rental store, pubs and corner shops during a two-day sting.

The results represent an unprecedented boom in illegal tobacco sales – with a similar probe last year finding just eight shops selling illicit goods during a longer, three-day blitz.

Police-trained test buyers led by former Scotland Yard detective chief inspector Will O’Reilly hit shops in several areas of the Capital and found 18 stores selling knock-off tobacco products.

Unlikely offenders included a fruit and vegetable store on Leith Walk and a takeaway on Gorgie Road – both of which offered packs of illicit cigarettes for around £5.

Their details have been passed on to police and trading standard chiefs.

Mr O’Reilly slammed the illegal trading and said the sales were funding organised crime gangs who thrived on the black market.

He said: “These are the same criminal groups who are involved in the illegal drug trade. This is just a different commodity to them – these are unscrupulous people selling in shops.

“There are a number of consequences – every pound they make selling illicit cigarettes goes on other criminal enterprises. In hard times people tend to go towards the black market thinking it’s a victimless crime – but it’s not.”

He added: “Overall, the test purchasers found it very easy to obtain illicit tobacco products in Edinburgh. Compared to our investigation a year ago, they found that they were able to generally make more purchases on this occasion.”

Investigators identified the illegal sale of tobacco as particularly widespread in shops on and around Easter Road, Leith Walk and Gorgie Road.

The researchers – from tobacco giant Philip Morris – visited a number of UK cities.

A HMRC spokeswoman said illicit tobacco smuggling stripped treasury coffers of 
£2.1 billion in lost duty and taxes every year. She added: “In addition to significant revenue loss, illicit tobacco products damage legitimate businesses and makes cheaper tobacco more readily available to the young and vulnerable.

“Since 2000, we have had a strategy in place to tackle tobacco smuggling which has resulted in significant reductions in the size of the illicit market, with the illicit cigarette market being halved, and the hand-rolling tobacco illicit market cut by nearly 40 per cent.”

A spokesman for the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association said: “We welcome this investigation, but it does highlight how widespread the illegal tobacco market is in Edinburgh, costing legitimate local retailers over £20,000 each per annum in lost sales and the government of much-needed revenue.”