Northern Ireland

NI illegal tobacco costs exchequer £85m a year

Man rolling a cigarette
Image caption 59% of rolling tobacco in Northern Ireland is said to be illegal

The illegal tobacco trade in Northern Ireland costs the exchequer around £85m a year, MPs have been told.

The figures were given to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminister which is investigating smuggling and fuel laundering.

The committee was told that 17% of cigarettes smoked in Northern Ireland are illegal compared to 13% in GB.

It also heard that 59% of handrolling tobacco was illicit compared to 54% in the rest of the UK.

The committee was also told that Northern Ireland had around 1,775 retail outlets selling tobacco which had noticed a drop in turnover.

Paul Williams, head of corporate affairs at Japan Tobacco International, which has a site at Lisnafillan in Ballymena, said the fall in turnover was due to counterfeit or smuggled tobacco.

He said the problem cost the legitimate trade £1,000 a week.

In response to the figures, a Revenue and Customs spokesman said: "The government has made an additional £917m available to HMRC to tackle evasion, avoidance and criminal fraud across the tax system, including illicit trading in tobacco.

"Our refreshed strategy to tackle tobacco smuggling, launched earlier this year, shows that we are determined to find and bring to justice those people who think they can break the law in this way."

Gas fraud

Tom O'Carroll, director of corporate affairs at Calor Gas, also gave evidence to the committee.

He estimated that the illegal trade in bottled gas was costing his firm about £2m a year.

He believed that figure was on the increase and the trade was depriving legitimate traders of income.

He told MPs that there was not only a loss of revenue but also the loss of the gas bottles which belong to the company.

He said customers who bought illicit fuel were "not getting what they paid for" and the "standards of safety are dubious".

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