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Recession 'makes us target for black market cigarettes'

INTERNATIONAL criminals are targeting Ireland with cheap contraband cigarettes since people have less money to spend, cancer campaigners have warned.

In the wake of a massive €15m illegal tobacco haul at Dublin Port, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) said more funding is needed to police smuggling.

Kathleen O'Meara, ICS head of advocacy and communications, said there also needs to be more focus on the public health impact of smuggled cigarettes.

"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.

"Smuggling needs to be stopped not just because illegal tobacco reduces the Department of Finance's revenue but because of the massive public health threat."

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

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

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

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

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

The haul had a retail value of €14.7m with a potential loss in revenue to the State of €13m.

In 2009, 120 million cigarettes were found in Greenore, Co Louth, and 70 million in Dundalk port in 2001.

Revenue Commissioner Liam Irwin said last night that the seizure was a significant blow to the crime gang involved in the illicit trade.

"Tobacco smuggling is organised fraud on a global scale.

"It brings criminality into our communities and robs millions of euros from the State each year," he added.