Illicit cigs grow, Health Dept wants no part

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Pictured: Ronald Kers of Valeo Foods Group (Photo by Dave Warren/Picture Team)

The total haul of contraband cigarettes for 2009 trebled overnight during the month of October thanks to the Greenore seizure

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16 November 2009

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The number of contraband cigarettes seized this year trebled overnight during the month of October when customs discovered a haul worth an estimated €50 million off the coast of Greenore, Co Louth. The seizure is double the total amount caught in the first eight months of 2009.

Deirdre Healy, corporate affairs manager, John Player and Sons, said while the seizure is a significant achievement, the scale of the operation required to process it will put huge strain on customs’ already overstretched resources.

“We all know that there’s not enough customs officers, they’ll tell you that on the ground,” said Healy, adding that COs are not able to keep up with the volume of reports received.

John Player is now making daily reports to the authorities about illicit tobacco trade, gleaned through its own system in place among its sales force. The company has reported numerous instances of door-to-door selling of counterfeit cigarettes, including cartons of its own products for as little as €35.

Healy pointed to the “anomaly” between the freedom of counterfeit cigarette sellers compared to the increasingly strict regulation governing legitimate tobacco sellers. She also claimed that the resource problem at customs could be addressed by redeploying Environmental Health Officers under the remit Department of Health to investigate illicit traders.

In a letter to Healy from the department however, the Minister for Health said that while “consumption of all tobacco products, both legal, duty-paid products and counterfeit products, is harmful to public health. The issue of illicit trade, however, is a matter for the Revenue Commission and An Garda Síochána.”

When asked by ShelfLife about the possibility of the health department playing a roll in illicit trade, it reiterated the statement made to John Player.

Healy said the industry would like to see the Departments of Health, Finance and Justice come up with a strategic plan between them for tackling the issue. “In the UK, they accept that this is part of tobacco control, whereas the Irish Department of Health is only interested in tobacco control in the legitimate channel,” she said, “They’re line is to stop people smoking but as long as one in four is bought in the street at half the price, they’ll never stop people smoking. They have to have a roll in this.”

 

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