Tobacco smugglers to be targeted in budget clamp down

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The Independent Online

A massive £209 million clampdown on tobacco smuggling was announced by the Government today in a bid to reduce the flood of contraband cigarettes into the UK after the budget hiked ciggarette prices.

A massive £209 million clampdown on tobacco smuggling was announced by the Government today in a bid to reduce the flood of contraband cigarettes into the UK after the budget hiked ciggarette prices.

An extra 1,000 Customs Officers are to be deployed and tough new penalties are to be introduced as part of the Government's war on smuggling.

New technology including extra x-ray scanners are also to be made available at ports and airports across Britain.

The Government has pledged to halt the rise in tobacco smuggling within three years.

Customs and Excise has been set targets of seizing more than 10 billion cigarettes and collecting an additional £2.3 billion in tax revenue as part of the strategy.

In his Budget yesterday, Chancellor Gordon Brown increased tobacco tax by 5% - a move which manufacturers say will increase smuggling cheap cigarettes from Europe and the Middle East.

One in five cigarettes smoked in the UK are smuggled.

Cigarettes are up to £2 cheaper in countries like Belgium from where many gangs operate.

Paymaster General Dawn Primarolo said: "These gangs are not 'Jack the lads' individuals who are just smuggling a few cigarettes across the Channel for them or their friends.

"This is an issue of criminality, with hardened gangs of criminals who do not care who they sell the cigarettes to and are using the profits to fund more criminal activity in this country."

Around two-thirds of offenders caught smuggling cigarettes through the port of Dover already have criminal convictions for offences ranging from fraud to drug smuggling and violence, she said.

Ms Primarolo added: "Tobacco smuggling is unacceptable - it undermines our aims to reduce smoking, which is a single greatest cause of preventable premature death in this country.

"It denies honest taxpayers the money for high quality public services and it has disturbing links to other serious criminal activities."

The Government strategy aims to increase the number of seizures along the smuggling supply chain and improve intelligence operations to smash organised gangs.

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