Blow to bootleggers welcomed – but what about the Big Boys?

Monday 20 October 2003

ASH news release:  Embargo: 00:01 Monday 20th October 2003
ASH has congratulated the French authorities for increasing tobacco taxes by a fifth as of today, saying that the measure was a step in the right direction and in the best interest of health. ASH said that they were aware that the increase may be prove unpopular with French at first, but pointed out that the increase will result in a downward trend in tobacco consumption [1].

ASH also said that the French rise in tobacco taxes would have a small, yet welcome effect on the bootleg trade in tobacco in the UK by ‘white-van-men’ and ‘booze-cruisers’.

But ASH were also quick to caution that the vast majority of contraband tobacco that is finding its way on to British streets is not down to cross-channel traffic, but is orchestrated through highly organised criminal gangs, using large scale container-fraud to get hold of illicit tobacco in the first place [2].

David Hinchliffe MP, Labour Chair of the government Health Select Committee, has now joined ASH in calling on the UK Government to publish the findings of a DTI investigation into tobacco giant British American Tobacco, which stands accused of involvement in tobacco smuggling [3].

Health Select Committee Chairman, David Hinchliffe MP said:

“I am concerned at the length of time the inquiry has taken and the committee always has the option on revisiting inquiries and records, and  this is certainly an issue I would not wish to abandon. The publication of the DTI investigation remains an important issue.”

Deborah Arnott, Director of the health campaigning charity ASH, said:

“Tobacco smuggling is a deadly serious issue. UK companies like BAT and Imperial Tobacco have been investigated by the DTI and powerful government committees [4] for their role in facilitating smuggling. It’s been over three years since the DTI started investigating BAT’s involvement in smuggling and apparently over 18 months since the final draft of the report was prepared.

“It is not good enough for the Government to say that that the findings of the DTI report are not for public consumption [5]. Tobacco smuggling is a public issue – it brings criminality to our streets, undermines the governments own strategy on dealing with smoking related mortality and morbidity and waters down public health efforts  – not to mention the potential it carries of putting cigarettes into the mouths of our children.

If the investigation exonerated BAT of any wrong doing, then let it be known. It really is time to put paid to all the speculation clouding this investigation.[6]

In the interest of openness, transparency and not least public health, ASH calls on the government to make the findings of the investigation public.

Notes and links:

[1] ASH: Why cigarette taxes should be high (pdf)

[2] ASH factsheet on tobacco smuggling (pdf)

[3] ASH: Smuggling / BAT and Smuggling

[4] ASH Press release: MPs savage Imperial over tobacco smuggling

[5] Jacqui Smith MP confirms in answer to Parliamentary Question that DTI report is not to be made public:

[6] In May / June 2003, The Independent ran a series of stories on the Prime Minister Tony Blair’s family vacation at the chateau of French billionaire Alain Dominique Perrin businessman whose firm owns £3bn worth of shares in British American Tobacco. The articles speculated that the DTI investigation had been ‘kicked into the long grass’ as a result.

The Independent coverage of the story is no longer available online.