Looking at the illegal importation of tobacco gives an indication of how successful or not the authorities could be in stamping down on freshly banned goods. Tobacco is instantly recognisable to the non-smoker, a product that ought to be easy to eliminate from importation by an eagle-eyed HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) operative.
In 2011, the UK Border Agency and HMRC released a report titled Tackling tobacco smuggling: building on our success. In it they claim: “This strategy builds on the success of our work to date, which has seen the size of the illicit cigarette market cut by almost half.” One may wonder that if they know how much else is being imported they must be counting it and really ought to have confiscated it there and then.
Government officials estimated that the tax lost through illegal importing came to around £2 Billion. In 2014, three years after their all-new approach (building on all that success) ASH reported that lost tax revenue had now risen to £2.1 Billion.
Now, the tobacco industry is complicit in this large-scale tax avoidance scheme, that much is a given. George Osbourne, during a meeting with Big T leaders in 2002, said: “One comes to the conclusion that you are either crooks or you are stupid, and you do not look very stupid. How can you possibly have sold cigarettes to Latvia, Kaliningrad, Afghanistan and Moldova in the expectation that those were just going to be used by the indigenous population or exported legitimately to neighbouring countries, and not in the expectation they would be smuggled?”
This emphasises the impossibility of cracking down of importation of vaping paraphernalia. HMRC had promised to seize greater volumes of illicit product, take hard hitting action against offenders, reduce the availability of genuine tobacco products for fraud, reduce demand for illicit tobacco products and work together with overseas partners and international organisations. It promised and failed.
According to a paper published by the British Medical Journal: “The agreements drawn up between the European Union (EU) and the four major transnational tobacco companies, to crack down on cigarette smuggling and recoup lost tax revenues, are failing to meet their stated aims, concludes research published online in the journal Tobacco Control. They are littered with loopholes, which the tobacco companies can easily exploit, and should be abandoned, say the researchers, ahead of World Tobacco Day at the end of this month.”
If HMRC can’t prevent truckloads of Rothmans and Golden Virginia driving through Dover what hope have they got to stop single atomisers and bottles of liquid entering from non-EU destinations in plain envelopes? While POTV does not advocate vapers breaking the law it is inevitable that purchases will continue abroad at further detriment to British vendors, manufacturers and their employees.