Tackling tobacco cheats head-on

JTI has stepped up its anti-illicit trade activity through Don’t Be Complicit In Illicit, as Steve Wilkins explains

JTI UK’s anti-illegal trade operations director Steve Wilkins said illicit tobacco harms retailers

What resources has JTI dedicated to the Don’t Be Complicit In Illicit campaign?

JTI’s Don’t Be Complicit In Illicit campaign kicked off in October last year and was supported by a nationwide advertising campaign in local and trade media.

The initiative is primarily focused on motivating retailers and members of the public to take action against the illicit tobacco trade. It includes a dedicated microsite — www.jtiadvance.co.uk/DontBeComplicit — which features an easy-to-use ‘report’ function, as well as information on the scale of the problem and its implications for both retailers and local communities across the UK.

As part of our ongoing efforts to tackle the illicit trade, the campaign will run indefinitely and include test purchasing initiatives and ongoing face-to-face support for retailers from JTI field representatives.

How has JTI been working with retailers to clamp down on illicit trading?

JTI takes a firm stance on any retailer engaged in the illegal trade, as part of an ongoing commitment to protect law abiding retailers and the category as a whole – and we’re committed to withdrawing support from any retailer found to be selling illicit tobacco. Over the past five years, we have carried out 33 local media campaigns, most recently in Wales, raising awareness to the general public about the dangers of illegal tobacco and have removed gantries from over 30 retailers found to have been selling illegal tobacco. Last year, we brought seven private prosecutions, five of which have resulted in successful convictions, the remaining two are pending trial.

What can retailers do to help JTI combat illicit sales?

Any retailer who is aware of anybody selling illicit tobacco, should contact the HM Revenue & Customs’ Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887, Trading Standards on 03454 04 05 06 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. Retailers can also use the report function on the new Don’t Be Complicit microsite.

How does the campaign benefit legitimate retailers?

The illicit tobacco trade seriously undermines legitimate retailers and their businesses, as not only are tobacco sales taken away from law-abiding retailers, but they also lose footfall through their stores. Our campaign allows legitimate retailers to be proactive in joining the fight against the illegal trade, in an easy and anonymous way.

JTI launched Don’t Be Complicit in October 2018

Has the campaign had any success so far?

We have seen a high level of engagement from retailers since the microsite went live in October and have generated dozens of click-throughs in the last few months to the Crimestoppers online reporting tool. This shows that retailers care about the illicit tobacco trade and are passionate about fighting it – we have simply given them a suitable platform to do so.

What other agencies has JTI been working with to combat illicit trade?

The Don’t Be Complicit in Illicit microsite directs any retailer looking to report illegal tobacco in their area to Crimestoppers. We also encourage retailers or anyone else who knows of the illicit trade operating in their community to get in touch with either HM Revenue and Customs’ Fraud Hotline, or with Trading Standards.

In general, a great deal is being done by various agencies to combat the illegal tobacco market. In the last two years, for example, HMRC & Border Force have seized 2.8 billion cigarettes and 638 tonnes of RYO, protecting tax revenue of more than £1.1bn. On top of this, Trading Standards officers are active in towns and cities across the country, often using sniffer dogs to identify hidden illegal products in retail outlets.

Key to tackling the issue of illicit tobacco, is the ability to work together; from the local authorities and police, to the manufacturers, retailers, and wholesalers – right down to the customers.

Plain packs help counterfeiters according to JTI

How big a problem is illicit tobacco? What impact does illicit trade have on legitimate tobacco sales?

The UK government estimates that illegal tobacco makes up around 15% of the cigarette market and 28% of the hand rolling tobacco market in the UK. Illegal trade caused £2.5bn of lost tax revenue in 2016/7, with a total revenue loss of £43.5bn since 2000/1 .

Not only that, but the illicit trade also causes problems for local communities. It undermines efforts to stop children from having access to tobacco products as the criminals who sell illegal tobacco don’t operate a ‘No ID, No Sale’ policy.

Illegal products have been found to contain asbestos, mould, dust, dead flies, rat droppings and even human excrement. Finally, the illegal tobacco industry has strong links to organised crime – the people bringing counterfeit tobacco products into the UK are the very same as those trafficking drugs, arms and even people.

Is there any evidence that regulations such as EUTPD2 or the UK’s relatively high duty on tobacco has exacerbate the illicit trade problem?

Organised criminals leverage the plain packaging regulation, taking advantage of the fact that packs have become easier to duplicate with the introduction of plain packaging.

We call the law the counterfeiter’s charter, so, it is no surprise that counterfeit plain packaging products have appeared. High levels of taxation in the UK also contributes towards customers seeking out cheaper products, which in turn may tempt them to purchase potentially dangerous illicit tobacco at a lower price.