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One in seven cigarettes is illegally smuggled

The Exchequer is losing out on €250million a year – or around half the amount recently cut from the social welfare budget.

Image: ALESSANDRO DELLA BELLA/Keystone Switzerland/Press Association Images

ONE IN SEVEN cigarettes smoked in the Republic of Ireland has been illegally smuggled into the country, according to the latest figures from the Department of Finance.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said figures for 2010 show around 14 per cent of cigarettes are smuggled, adding that the illegal trade means the Exchequer loses out on around €250million every year.

A further six per cent of cigarettes – or one in 16 – are not taxed as they are brought into the country legally by people returning from holiday and other travellers.

The €250million figure is roughly half the amount cut from the social welfare budget in the Government’s latest round of austerity measures.

Answering a parliamentary question on the issue of illegal tobacco smuggling, Minister Noonan insisted that the trade was a  “high priority” for the Revenue Commissioners.

He said customs officers had launched a number of ‘blitz’ operations against the trade since 2010, seizing more than 34million cigarettes and 1,383kg of tobacco. Baggage and postal packages are routinely screened along with other cargo and vehicle.

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Some of the operations are also led by profiling and intelligence, the Minister said.

The price of a pack of 20 cigarettes was increased by 25 cent in the latest Budget. Ahead of the price hike, lobby group Retailers Against Smuggling warned that any such move would push more customers towards the illegal trade.

Spokesperson Benny Gilsenan said: “The fall in prices in the illegal market shows that it is growing. If there is any excise increase consumers will be pushed towards street corners and demand in the black market will sky rocket.”

More: Retailers warn Dublin airport is ‘a hub’ for cigarette smuggling>

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Michael Freeman

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