LESS than one-in-20 criminals convicted of cigarette smuggling in the courts so far this year have ended up serving a prison sentence.
This is despite the loss of €200m to the State in excise duty as a result of the illegal purchase of cigarettes in the past year.
Estimates compiled by the Revenue Commissioners indicate that one-in-five cigarettes being smoked in the State has not been taxed here.
This includes cigarettes illicitly bought and legal cross-border purchases brought into the State for personal consumption.
New figures published by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan show there were 63 convictions for cigarette smuggling this year, up to the end of last month.
These resulted in 10 sentences being imposed by the courts but seven of them were subsequently suspended, meaning that only three offenders had to spend time behind bars.
Fines totalling €28,775 were handed down by the judges, making an average fine of €423 per smuggler.
Convictions for selling unstamped tobacco products amounted to 30 with nine jail sentences being imposed, although five of them were suspended and two others were currently under appeal.
Other offenders were sentenced to a total of 2,350 hours of community service, while fines averaged out at €2,477 each. These compared with 10 sentences served for cigarette smuggling for the whole of 2009 and four jail terms for illegal cigarette selling.
In 2005, only five offenders were given prison sentences for cigarette smuggling and all five were suspended while nobody convicted of selling illegal cigarettes faced imprisonment.