'We were able to buy packets for as little as €4.50' - Undercover investigation
The ease with which illegal cigarettes are bought and sold on Dublin's streets has been laid bare.
An undercover investigation yielded hundreds of cut-price cigarettes, for as little as just €4.50 a packet.
They ranged from genuine but contraband cigarettes, smuggled to Ireland from Eastern Europe where they are far cheaper, to counterfeit copies of legitimate brands.
A range of fake brands, likely manufactured by criminal gangs, were also discovered in circulation.
From organised crime gangs importing illegal cigarettes on a mass scale, to lone-wolf opportunists, the black market trade is costing the State in the region of €300m a year.
A team of investigators, employed by tobacco company Philip Morris, managed to secure illegal cigarettes through legitimate shops, on-street deals and even from private houses.
One deal took place on Parnell Street, just outside the busy Ilac Centre, in broad daylight.
In another, a woman was selling cheap illicit cigarettes from her home at Summerhill Road, in Dublin's north inner city.
In part of the operation witnessed by the Herald, the investigators were able to buy cheap, contraband cigarettes from two shops in the space of just 90 minutes.
These included a Russian shop named Kazak on Granby Place and Romanian shop Transilvania on Dorset Street Lower.
In the first deal of the day, at around 12.20pm, a young man appeared outside the Ilac Centre in a prearranged meeting.
The investigator, who cannot be named, said he sought out the deal.
"We look for specific shops where we believe cigarettes might be for sale. In this case I walked in and asked if anyone was selling cheap cigarettes and the guy said 'yeah - me.' That was it," he said.
The investigator told the seller he was not able to get out of work the following day and so they agreed to meet on a busy street where the deal went down.