Following its enhanced scrutiny of the EU’s strategy against illicit tobacco smuggling, the EU Sub-Committee on Home Affairs, Health and Education has written to the Government regarding efforts at the domestic and EU levels to combat the illegal trade in tobacco products.
The Committee had already conducted enhanced scrutiny on the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive, but did not consider that a clear enough picture of the scale of the illicit trade problem in the UK had been presented. It undertook enhanced scrutiny of the EU’s Cigarette Smuggling Strategy – which also includes other tobacco-based products including rolling tobacco and electronic cigarettes – in order to explore this important matter further and ascertain what efforts were being made at the domestic and EU levels to combat it.
As part of this enhanced scrutiny, the Committee heard evidence from European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs officials.
In the letter, the Committee expresses support for the Cigarette Smuggling Strategy but also expresses concern that a recent National Audit Office report suggests that the UK Border Force’s role in fighting the illegal trade in tobacco products may have been given a lower priority than some of its other activities. If this is true then it may undermine the overall efforts by the EU to effectively tackle this criminal activity. The Committee has called on the Government to provide it with a clear response to the findings in this report.
In addition, the Committee is also asking the Government:
- to contribute ‘proactively’ to the further development of the Cigarette Smuggling Strategy, along with other Member States;
- to encourage both the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to urge third countries to sign and ratify the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products as soon as possible;
- to continue working with partners at the EU level to ensure that appropriate punishments are in place to deter tobacco smugglers;
- to strengthen its cooperation with different criminal law enforcement bodies globally;
- to continue with its plan to rejoin Europol, Eurojust and the European Arrest Warrant, following the 2014 opt-out decision on EU police and criminal justice measures being exercised; and
- to consult widely with the UK, EU and international stakeholders before making any decision on the standardisation of tobacco packaging.
The letter also focuses on a number of other areas, specifically:
- the role of taxation and other drivers in the market for illicit tobacco;
- the effect of the economic crisis on illicit trade;
- the efficacy of cooperation between EU agencies, and the UK Government’s cooperation with them;
- monitoring and evaluation; and
- the implications of introducing standardised packaging for the illicit trade.