News Tuesday April 6, 2010

Seven million illegal cigarettes seized

UK border police have seized seven million cigarettes that criminals were attempting to smuggle into the country.

The cigarettes were stashed away in a lorry that was travelling into Britain from France via a ferry. Upon docking in East Sussex, police intercepted the shipment. Had the seven million smokes been sold on the black market, as intended, the taxpayer would have potentially lost out on £1.3 million.

Cigarettes sold on the black market are responsible for millions of deaths each year, particularly in lower and middle-income regions. Unlike legal cigarettes, they are not taxed. This is damaging on two fronts. Firstly, it makes the cigarettes cheaper, encouraging smokers to buy more. Secondly, authorities gain no extra income from their sale.

The tax money earned from legally-sold cigarettes is usually put towards anti-smoking campaigns. From posters encouraging smoking cessation, to support and advice lines, and prescription anti-smoking medications, much of the government’s anti-smoking drives are funded by taxation. The average price of a pack of 20 cigarettes is £6.28, with £4.82 of this going towards taxation.

Taxation: a tool against tobacco

The British government has deliberately increased taxation on cigarettes, as a way of making the habit less affordable.

Nonetheless, in a report that was published earlier this year, the government conceded that many young people are still taking up smoking, often because of the way that tobacco manufacturers market their products. They have vowed to continue bearing down on the black market cigarette trade by investing in overseas crime liaison officers whom they expect to prevent 200 million cigarettes from being brought into the country every year.

The market for counterfeit cigarettes fell considerably during the previous decade, dropping from 21% to 10%. It still accounts for a large proportion of the UK market, however.

Around 80,000 people in England die each year from smoking. If they do not quit, half of current smokers can expect to die prematurely from related health conditions, including lung cancer, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a collection of lung diseases).

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