Limerick retailers fume as black market tobacco sees revenue go up in smoke

ILLEGAL peddling of cigarettes around city housing estates and pubs is seeing revenue to the shopkeeper go up in smoke.

ILLEGAL peddling of cigarettes around city housing estates and pubs is seeing revenue to the shopkeeper go up in smoke.

Limerick retailers fed up with the explosion in the black market are to meet in private at the Strand Hotel later this month to decide on a plan of action to stub out the smuggling and illegal selling of contraband tobacco.

James Ryan, who runs Centra on O’Connell Street, is a member of Retailers Against Smuggling (RAS), which is sponsored by retail groups as well as tobacco manufacturers.

“The situation in Limerick is getting worse and cannot continue,” Mr Ryan said.

“We have a situation in Limerick where illegal cigarettes are being sold door-to-door in the Moyross, Southill and Weston estates and in city centre pubs. If the problem is not tackled, Limerick retailers will have to let staff go,” he warned.

Pointing to a survey carried out among RAS members, Mr Ryan added that in 2011, independent retailers across Ireland had let go around 700 staff due to the illegal trade.

And Limerick, according to RAS, seems to have an acute problem with the number of court convictions recorded here last year in relation to illegal tobacco the third highest in the land.

Data from the Revenue Commissioners defaulters list for 2011 shows there were eight convictions in Limerick over the 12 months, five for illegal selling and three for tobacco smuggling. This was topped only by Dublin, where Revenue secured 50 convictions, and Cork, with 11. But the numbers convicted are “only the tip of the iceberg”, according to James Ryan.

Manufacturers estimate that the black market for tobacco costs the state in excess of €500 million a year in lost VAT and excise duty.

Retailers are also fuming over what they consider derisory penalties for those caught, with €2833 the average fine for illegal selling in 2011 and €1829 for smugglers.

RAS are calling for a minimum fine of €10,000 on conviction; reform of casual trading bylaws to clamp down on illegal selling at markets and other measures.

Mr Ryan, meanwhile, said “local politicians, councillors and representatives from law enforcement, Revenue and Customs” would be invited to attend this month’s private RAS meeting, which takes place at the Strand Hotel at 7pm on Monday, May 14.

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