Tobacco smugglers and new laws threat to corner shops
Tobacco smugglers are squeezing the life out of traditional corner shops with hundreds in the South West set to pay the price of the illegal activity.
According to a new study, one in eight corner shops in the South West are under threat due to lost sales from tobacco smuggling and cross-border shopping.
The figure is up from last year when the survey by the Tobacco Retailers' Alliance (TRA) revealed that one in eleven corner shops, or nine per cent, in the region were under threat.
One in five corner shop owners have considered reducing staff due to lost sales from tobacco smuggling and cross-border shopping, up from 1 in six, or 16 per cent, in 2012.
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Dave Matthews, a shopkeeper in Trispen near Truro and South West spokesman for the TRA, said it was a dire situation for many.
"These results show that tobacco smuggling is not only a threat to the livelihoods of independent retailers but one that continues to worsen," he said. "The high levels of tax on tobacco mean that a smuggler selling at half the price I charge will make more money selling his tobacco here than almost anywhere else in the EU."
Mr Matthews said a level playing field was the only solution and the only way to ensure the UK's network of traditional corner shops remained healthy.
"The government needs to allow tax levels in the other member countries to catch up with those in the UK so that smugglers do not see the UK as the most profitable place to ply their illegal trade."
According to a report by the National Audit Office this summer, tobacco smuggling remains a significant threat to tax revenues.
It said Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs Office's strategy is going in the right direction but the department has failed to truly get to grips with the problem and had missed its targets.
It is estimated that in 2010-11 alone, duty was not paid on 9 per cent of cigarettes and 38 per cent of hand-rolling tobacco smoked in the UK, at a cost of £1.9bn in lost revenue.
Mr Matthews said small businesses such as his were paying the price and further initiatives under discussion by the EU had the potential to make shopkeepers' plight even worse.
The EU is currently considering whether to ban large ranges of tobacco products from retailers' shelves, including packs of cigarettes under 20, packs of loose tobacco under 40gms, menthol cigarettes and "slim" cigarettes, as well as dramatically increasing the size of health warnings.
"If the EU bans these products, it will play in to the hands of the smugglers who will happily be able to provide them to anyone that wishes, no matter what their age," said Mr Matthews.
"This will affect the livelihoods of independent retailers across the UK and ensure that the criminal activity of tobacco smuggling blights our communities for years to come."