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Tobacco smuggling gangs target 'roll your own' smokers

CIGARETTE smugglers have quickly adapted to the recession by switching to shipments of cheaper rolled tobacco.

Retail trade figures for 2011 show that cigarette sales were down by 4pc on the previous year, while sales of "roll your own" were up by more than 20pc.

And these official figures were backed up by statistics compiled by the Revenue's customs criminal investigation branch, focusing on the black market.

These reveal that while seizures of cigarettes dropped from 178 million in 2010 to 106 million in 2011, intercepted 'roll your own' consignments were up from 3,342kg in 2010, with a retail value of €1.2m, to 11,314kg, which had a retail worth of just over €4m -- an increase of 268pc in these type of seizures.

According to Tom Talbot, principal officer of the investigation branch, postal seizures of tobacco were also on the up.

"This has been a big problem in the UK for years but we didn't experience it until recently and now we are finding loads of 20, 30 and 40kg," said Mr Talbot.

At the lower end of the smuggling spectrum were day trippers or weekenders who catch a cheap flight to eastern Europe or the Canaries and return home with a lot of profit in the form of cheap tobacco.

"You can buy cigarettes for around €2.40 for a 20-pack in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia and €1.10 in the Ukraine, book a flight for €100 and make money by selling the packs to family and friends," he added.

Counterfeit cigarettes were selling for around €32 for 200, while illicit 'white' brands -- cigarettes created by organised crime gangs, with no legitimate market anywhere, and which feature made-up brand names with much-reduced quality control -- were slightly more expensive at €35 to €40.

Irish Independent