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Stronger powers to combat illicit tobacco come into force

21 Jul 2023 3 minute read
HMRC will administer the penalties and ensure the appropriate sanction is applied and enforced.

New powers came into force yesterday, which could see penalties of up to £10,000 for any businesses and individuals who sell illicit tobacco products.

It comes as 27 million illicit cigarettes and 7,500kg of hand-rolling tobacco were seized under Operation CeCe in its first two years, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and National Trading Standards have revealed.

The sanctions will bolster UK Government’s efforts to tackle the illicit tobacco market and reduce tobacco duty fraud.

The new powers will also see Local Authority Trading Standards given the ability to refer cases to HMRC for further investigation.

HMRC, where appropriate, will administer the penalties and ensure the appropriate sanction is applied and enforced.

Operation CeCe is a joint HMRC-National Trading Standards operation which has been working to seize illicit tobacco since January 2021.


Nis Bandara, Deputy Director for Excise and Environmental Taxes, HMRC, said: “Trade in illicit tobacco costs the Exchequer more than £2 billion in lost tax revenue each year.

“It also damages legitimate businesses, undermines public health and facilitates the supply of tobacco to young people.

“These sanctions build on HMRC’s enforcement of illicit tobacco controls, will strengthen our response against those involved in street level distribution, and act as a deterrent to anyone thinking that they can make a quick and easy sale and undercut their competition.”

Kate Pike, Lead Officer for the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said: “Trading Standards Officers across the country work with colleagues in Public Health to reduce the harm from smoking and with enforcement partners to disrupt criminality in our communities.

“We welcome this addition to our toolkit of measures to tackle illegal tobacco, ensuring that those who seek to profit from supplying these products face substantial penalties for doing so, and their ability to continue to trade is severely impacted.”

Lord Michael Bichard, Chair of National Trading Standards, said: “The illegal tobacco trade harms local communities and affects honest businesses.

“Through Operation CeCe, we have removed 27 million illegal cigarettes and 7,500kg of hand-rolling tobacco from the supply chain and we welcome these new measures to clamp down further on the illicit tobacco trade.”

HMRC will launch a new illicit tobacco strategy later in the year which will replace ‘From Leaf to Light’, which has been the guiding strategy for tackling the illicit tobacco market since 2015.

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