Press releases

‘Smoke out’ the trade in illicit tobacco, says TSI

The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) today called for the launch of regional squads to 'smoke out' the trade in smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes.

Licensing of tobacco sales, a ban on cigarette vending machines and the creation of TV soap opera characters who promote the message that 'smoking is not cool' are also backed by TSI.

The calls are part of TSI's response to a Department of Health consultation on the future of tobacco control, which closes today (08 September 2008).

'In the last 10 years there has been outstanding successes in the field of tobacco control, including an end to most advertising, the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces and raising to 18 the age at which people can buy cigarettes,' said Ron Gainsford, chief executive of TSI.

'The consultation by the Department of Health now offers an excellent opportunity for a further major step forwards in reducing the harm caused by smoking.

'With proper backing and resources from central and local government, trading standards services can play a leading role in making sure that new legislation is effective. TSI hopes that the Government will continue to take bold and positive steps to further impact on smoking prevalence and the health of the nation.'

TSI's response to the consultation calls on the Government to make a significant investment into Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and trading standards services to squash the trade in illicit tobacco, which costs £3 billion a year in lost duty.

HMRC targets those at the top of the supply chain of smuggled tobacco but has minimal resources to tackle sales from pubs, mobile traders and people's homes - while trading standards officers have powers to stop the supply of counterfeit cigarettes.

TSI recommends that regional Illicit Tobacco Teams - combining the powers of HMRC to tackle bootleg suppliers and trading standards officers to stamp out the sale of counterfeit goods - should be set up, along the lines of similar squads that target illegal moneylenders and scams.

Brandon Cook, TSI spokesman on tobacco and age restricted sales, said: 'We propose that the Government looks fundamentally at the health and revenue costs to society of the illicit trade - and makes a significant investment to drive the illegal supply out of communities forever.

'The establishment of regional teams, bringing together the powers of all the relevant agencies, would help to smoke out the criminals who ply their trade in smuggled and counterfeit tobacco, which causes so much harm to local communities, particularly the young.'

Mr Cook added: 'A strong message would be sent out if tobacco sellers were licensed. Since tobacco is a dangerous and addictive product, it is reasonable to ensure that there are legislative controls on where and how it can be sold.

'Among other benefits, such a system would ensure that trading standards services had a register of all tobacco retailers in their area and any seller at a car boot sale, for instance, would clearly not be operating from licensed premises.'

Other key suggestions made by TSI in its response to the consultation include:

  • Regional tobacco managers to coordinate the work of various agencies in areas of high deprivation, which have the highest smoking rate
  • Sending out a strong message that 'buying cheap tobacco supports crime'
  • Developing high profile TV soap opera role models who would promote a healthy lifestyle, rather than existing characters who 'have a cigarette when things go wrong'
  • Further restrictions on advertising and promotion of all products associated with tobacco - including a ban on all displays
  • Banning all vending machine sales of tobacco. TSI says test purchasing by trading standards services around the country has shown very high rates of under-age sales from vending machines - and, if the trade cannot stop that happening, the machines should be banned completely
  • Plain packaging for all brands of cigarettes
  • Further research on the extent of older people buying tobacco for those who are under age - to consider whether it should be an offence for adults to buy for minors and under 18s to possess tobacco, as well as to buy it

Mr Cook said: 'Trading standards officers already work with other agencies on issues related to tobacco control through local partnerships, for example the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships. These partnerships will need to be strengthened and new links built with local health services to take tobacco control policy forward in the future. This will, of course, require adequate resourcing by central and local Government, including some increase in staffing levels.'

Notes to Editors

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.