Tobacco smuggling - Home Affairs Committee Contents


1.  HMRC and Border Force must continue to strengthen the lines of communication between the two organisations, to ensure that relevant and up-to-date information is passed between teams. In particular, it is vital that referrals be made to HMRC in all cases of seizures where it appears that there might be scope for sanctions to be imposed. HMRC and Border Force should create a platform where effective examples of joint-working with local police forces and partner agencies such as Trading Standards across the UK can be accessed for training and in order to share good practice. Without sharing information, raising prosecution and arrest rates for tobacco smuggling will be more difficult, if not impossible. (Paragraph 22)

2.  It is astonishing that no UK tobacco manufacturer has ever been fined for over-supply of products to high-risk overseas markets, and that only one statutory warning letter has been issued. The penalties available are too weak and enforcement too rare. We find it farcical that a respected enforcement agency such as HMRC has not imposed tougher punishments on those over-supplying overseas markets. We recommend that HMRC publish a clear set of criteria setting out the circumstances in which it would normally impose a fine and that an immediate review be taken against all historic and ongoing cases against this criteria in order to ensure those who have committed an offence do not go unpunished. (Paragraph 26)

3.  The lack of media reports relating to prosecutions and enforcement activity in this area is disappointing for two organisations held in high public regard. As part of their new communications strategy, HMRC and Border Force should publicise prosecutions and enforcement action more widely to deter potential offenders. It is important that the agencies work together to ensure that those who offend are named and shamed and that the public money, spent combating this crime, is shown to have been used effectively. (Paragraph 31)

4.  We believe that the decision on standardised packaging should be driven by health reasons and the imperative need to reduce the numbers of young people who start smoking. We note the statement of Sir Cyril Chantler to the effect that he was not convinced that standardised packaging would bring about an increase in the illicit market; even if this were the case, we believe that the proper response would be a more vigorous effort on enforcement rather than any lessening in the Government's drive towards introducing standardised packaging. (Paragraph 44)

5.  An effective track and trace system could potentially mitigate many of the possible risks which have led the Government to adopt a more cautious approach to standardised packaging. Any increase in criminality should be avoided at all costs and considerations on standardised packaging must be taken on health and commercial grounds. Therefore, we recommend that any future legislation to introduce standardised packaging should include a requirement for appropriate security and tracking features, in accordance with the EU Tobacco Products Directive and best evidence. (Paragraph 53)

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Prepared 14 June 2014