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Downturn 'made us a target for contraband cigarettes'

INTERNATIONAL criminals have been specifically targeting Ireland with cheap contraband cigarettes because people have less money to spend, cancer campaigners have warned.

Following a massive €15m illegal tobacco haul at Dublin Port on Thursday, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) said more funding was needed to police smuggling gangs.

Kathleen O'Meara, ICS head of advocacy and communications, said there also needed to be more focus on the public-health impact of illegally imported cigarettes, as well as the loss of revenue.

"Reducing the number of people who smoke needs to be a priority for all government departments, but without investment in the enforcement agencies who are policing our borders and working in our communities, we cannot expect to achieve this goal," she said.

The ICS said Thursday's seizure of more than 38 million contraband cigarettes clearly showed Ireland was being targeted by criminals who saw opportunities created by the recession.

The campaigners said anti-smuggling operations in Ireland needed around €8m more a year in funding to equal the UK spend, per head of population, on similar operations.

Seizure

The ICS said the increased funding would pay for itself many times over in boosted revenue, which could be ploughed into anti-smoking measures.

The latest haul at Dublin Port -- the largest in Europe so far this year -- was discovered in four 40ft maritime containers.

The cigarettes, which originated in Vietnam, arrived in Ireland via Rotterdam, specifically for the black market.

A premises was also searched after legal documentation linked the consignment with an Irish-based company.

It was the third largest seizure in Ireland, after 120 million cigarettes were found in 2009 and 70 million in 2001.

No arrests have been made, but Revenue said the investigation was continuing.

Irish Independent