Ministers swat away European Commission meddling on anti tobacco smuggling strategy

Tuesday 18 December 2001

ASH warned the European Commission to stop its attempts to undo the UK anti-smuggling strategy for tobacco [1]. Mr. Frits Bolkestein, Commissioner for the internal market, has threatened legal action against the government over its tough clampdown on bootleggers using the Channel ports.  Today the Customs and Excise responded to Mr. Bolkestein, rejecting his complaints. [2]

Clive Bates, Director of anti-tobacco group ASH said:

“If we want to do something about cancer, heart disease and emphysema, then we have to back up the policy of high cigarette taxes with uncompromising action against the smugglers. 


“Tobacco smuggling could undo all the effort that has gone into reducing smoking, and when the Commission starts interfering in British tax and health policy, it should remember that people will die as a result.

ASH warmly supported the robust response from Paul Boateng (Financial Secretary to the Treasury), refuting and rejecting complaints from the Commission and acknowledged Customs success in tackling bootlegging [3].

“The Customs strategy launched last year is really paying dividends, but its not surprising that the villains that have lost out are fighting back.  What is shocking is that the smugglers have somehow managed to enlist the support of the European Commission in their campaign to weaken Customs controls. 


“The government and European Commission are now in a staring contest and it looks as though ministers have no intention of blinking first.

ASH was especially scathing about Commissioner Bolkestein’s approach. Bates said:

“He just blundered in, announced his policy on television, made a completely inappropriate call for European tax harmonisation and then failed to produce any credible evidence to back his allegations of excessive border controls.  All he had was anecdotal accounts that had reached him as part of an orchestrated campaign and he never bother to check if this was the work of smugglers trying to restore their sleazy but lucrative trade. 


He seems so obsessed with a vision of a borderless, harmonised single Europe that he would rather open the floodgates to smugglers than support the British government in its efforts to overcome the black market menace..


If they get away with weakening border controls, the Commission will get the prize it really wants, which is tax harmonisation by the back-door.

Contact: Clive Bates +44 (0) 20 7739 5902(office) + 44 (0) 77 6879 1237 (mobile) ISDN available

ASH letter to Mr. Bolkestein August 2001

Mr. Bolkestein’s response to ASH October 2001

ASH letter to Members of European Parliament December 2001

HM Customs press release responding The Commission 18 December 2001

HM Customs press release announcing 76% cut in bootlegging November 2001