Seized cigarettes: nine face court

Nine Irish retailers caught selling counterfeit tobacco will face prosecution, the Revenue Commissioners has confirmed. The commission is set to introduce a new tax stamp – present on all cigarette packets sold in Ireland – as part of a massive crackdown on the burgeoning black market.

"The tax stamps have several overt and covert security features which make counterfeiting more difficult and allow customs officers to readily detect whether packs of cigarettes are the genuine product or not," said Revenue spokeswoman Tríona Ní Rabhartaigh.

Tobacco supplier JTI (Japan Tobacco International) has ceased supply to one Irish midlands retailer which was caught selling imitation branded cigarettes. JTI supplies such brands as Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut, Mayfair and Camel, and has said this is the first time it has ever taken this kind of action in any country. According to corporate affairs director Gerard Redmond, JTI is now considering stopping trade to other Irish shops.

"We do not think this will be the last retailer we stop supply to and we don't think this is the end of our problems in Ireland", he said. "The consequences will be grave for those caught, and when we revoke our supply we will never reverse that decision," he said.

Redmond said counterfeit tobacco made up 25% of Irish sales as the black market "spirals out of control". JTI will now work with revenue officials in the crackdown.

According to Ní Rabhartaigh, "the decision to invest further significant resources is testimony to the fact that this is an area of long-term strategic interest to Revenue and confirms its commitment to tackling smuggling of all types of goods".

The Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA) has also said it will condemn any of its members who sell counterfeit cigarettes.

"This situation has gone way out of control. The government must wake up and smell the roses on this issue, especially given the fact this illegal trade is costing them almost €400m every year," said a spokesman.