ALMOST one-third of cigarettes smoked in Limerick come from illicit sources, a new survey has confirmed.
And traders across the city say they are suffering losses of up to 30% from their annual sales due to the supply of smuggled cigarettes in Limerick.
Criminal gangs are using community notice boards in the city, as well as meeting workers when they finish work shifts to sell imported cigarettes, which can contain up to 17 times more lead than conventional smokes.
Heavy taxation at government level has been blamed on the upsurge in illegal tobacco shipments.
As a result, scores of retailers have been forced to let staff go, a meeting in the Strand Hotel has heard.
Organised by accountants Grant Thornton, the event laid bare the full extent of the problem, with a survey by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents revealing 27.2% of cigarette packs in Limerick found in the city’s waste bins were not bought on these shores.
The trade body has been doing similar checks on discarded cigarette packs across Ireland - and those at the meeting demanded action from the only government TD present, Kieran O’Donnell.
Local retailer Michael Gleeson, of Gleeson’s Spar in Henry Street, said: “You can tell each week what days the [illicit] deliveries come into Limerick just by the sales, and the placing of posters in different languages on community notice boards, advertising sale of illicit goods.”
He predicted he has suffered losses of at least 25% - but admitted this could be a lot higher.
“The government has singularly created a market for a black economy,” he said.
Joe Sweeney, of the NFRN believes very little is being done to stem the tide.
“There is not enough enforcement. The penalties are too weak, and for that reason, we find a lot of criminals are turning to tobacco: the rewards are high, the risk is low,” he said.
Clarina man Vincent Jennings, who heads the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association, said there was once a thriving market among the production lines at Dell.
This still exists in other manufacturing facilities, he added.
Mr O’Donnell said tackling the matter remains a priority for the government, with a report due by his Fine Gael colleague Damien English.