Imperial joins government war on tobacco smuggling

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The Independent Online

Imperial Tobacco has became the last of the three British cigarette groups to back formally the Government's drive to stamp out tobacco smuggling into the UK.

Gareth Davis, the chief executive, signed an agreement with Customs and Excise yesterday, pledging Imperial's support for a three-year Government programme to slash the number of cigarettes sold on the black market.

Imperial, the target of heavy criticism from MPs earlier this year for failing to co-operate in the battle against smuggling, joins Gallaher and British American Tobacco, which both signed a memorandum of understanding with Customs last year.

In January, the Commons public affairs committee found that smuggling cost the Exchequer £2.8bn in lost revenue, of which Imperial's brands accounted for about £1.4bn. Regal and Superkings, two of Imperial's best selling brands, were particular culprits, a report stated.

Mr Davis said yesterday: "The MoU draws on existing measures which have already helped to reduce the smuggling of Imperial brands in the UK by more than 60 per cent and represents a model of best practice."

A Customs and Excise spokesman said: "This memorandum represents exactly the sort of co-operation which is necessary to continue cracking down on tobacco smuggling and is increasingly driving the criminal organisations behind smuggling to turn to counterfeit to source their illegal supply."

Government figures showed the number of cigarettes smuggled into the UK in 2001 had dropped by 1 billion sticks, or 5 per cent. More than 5 billion cigarettes have been seized during the first two years of the crackdown, of which Imperial brands have represented about half of all seizures, Customs said.