Authorities seized 13 million illegal cigarettes and 4,300 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco across England and Wales, reports City AM.
The operation involved raids on homes and shops conducted by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) staff, Border Force officials, police and local authorities. The raids are part of a broader strategy aiming to tackle the government’s “three ‘tiers’ of criminality,” with HMRC shutting down illegal factories abroad and Border Force intercepting smuggled products and cash at the border.
Illegal trade costs the treasury £2 billion ($2.61 billion) each year. The government has implemented high and increasing tobacco tax, raising duty by 2 percent above the rate of inflation each year in order to discourage consumption and raise revenue. As duties have increased, though, illegal trade has also increased.
According to the European Anti-Fraud Office, 70 percent of U.K. consumers buy black market tobacco products because they are cheaper than legal products.