BEWARE of fake fags - they're not only illegal, they could just as well contain rat poison.
That was the warning from one north Cork retailer as he warned of the dangers contained in manufactured illegal tobacco.
Kevin Herlihy, proprietor of Centra shops in Millstreet, Mallow and Fermoy, told The Corkman, that there are two types of illegal tobacco, one of which is countraband and the other which is manufactured, which can have traces of rat poison.
While he said he can understand why a consumer would readily purchase a packet of cheap cigarettes for €4 he issued a cautionary warning that there can be rat poison placed in some packets of cigarettes.
"Consumers need to know what they are buying, and when a person buys a packet of cigarettes for €4 it may well not be what they are expecting," he said.
"There has been instances where one particular brand of cigarettes had rat poison and that is a fact," he said.
Mr Herlihy pointed out hat he operates a regulated business, pays his taxes and rates - along with other retailers. "However, when you have the North Cork market flooded with illegal cigarettes it means no duty has been paid and these cigarettes are being flogged for €4 compared to €9.40," he said.
He described the Minister for Health James O'Reilly's proposal to take the branding off a box of cigarettes as "ludicrous".
"This will only make it easier for smugglers and the market will be completely flooded. The Australian Government did this and it has proven to be detrimental, as smuggling has gone through the roof," he said.
At present, he said, one in four packets of cigarettes on the market are illegal but, should the branding be removed, it will ultimately mean that retailers will be further hit.
"The sale of illegal cigarettes is having a detrimental effect on businesses. But the consumers are also being put at risk, as they in effect, do not know what they are smoking," he said.
He said the government must abandon their plain package proposal. He also said a task force should be set up and resources pumped into tackling the illicit tobacco trade.
Meanwhile, Mr Alec Elliott, media relations advisor of JTI (Japan Tobacco International) Ireland Ltd said in 2011 a survey was undertaken in Cork which found that 8% of cigarette packets did not have the duty paid on them and were illegally imported. However, he said by 2012, it had crept to 30% and by July 2013, it stood at 32%.
"It means that one in four packets of cigarettes in Cork are illicit. They are being sold in towns and villages such as Mallow, Fermoy and throughout Duhallow," he said.
He said that sellers have "shopping lists," which they let on car windows and even put them through people's letterboxes. The person, in turn, phones the number and gets their delivery of illicit cigarettes.
"I've seen these lists myself with mobile numbers," he said.
However, he, along with Mr Herlihy, were both critical of the €2,500 maximum fine which can be issued if a person is caught with illegal cigarettes.
"The reality of this is that there is no deterrent," said Mr Elliott, who estimated that the illegal tobacco trade is now worth €3m a week.