June 29, 2010 - Scotland's west coast has become a smuggling hot spot after police cover for ports was significantly reduced last year.
New figures obtained by The Scotsman (Scotland's national newspaper) from the tobacco industryhave revealed there was a massive increase of illegal (illicit) cigarettes coming in through Dumfries and Galloway.
Sources within the tobacco industry and police believe former paramilitary groups from Northern Ireland are increasingly using ports like Stranraer to smuggle in counterfeit of "cheap white" cigarettes – made abroad below British standards – on to the UK mainland. (Cheap cigs account for fifth of market, The Scotsman, 4/28/2010)
Recent checks on packets by the tobacco industry revealed 30.8 percent in Scotland were illegal products, up 10.5 percentage points from 2009. The worst area on the UK mainland was the north of England, where 42.8 percent were illegal, up 23.5. The rate dropped dramatically the further south the tests were carried out, to just 2 percent in the south-east.
The problem of smuggling is costing the exchequer (the government's chief financial minister) millions of pounds in lost revenue and means potentially dangerous products are circulating in the UK. It also undermines the strategy of increasing tobacco prices to discourage use.
Police in Dumfries and Galloway have seen their numbers drop from 48 to 38 in the last year because Scottish Government funding was switched to providing more cover at airports following recommendations in a report by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos). The police officers have to cover 108 small ports, and Stranraer and Cairnryan on a coastline stretch of 350 miles.
But a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government is continuing to invest record levels in policing at ports across Scotland, including Dumfries and Galloway. The Scottish Government provides additional funding to police for aspects of ports policing. Dumfries and Galloway benefits directly from this funding, as it has from the funding for additional officers."
But one senior figure in the tobacco industry warned that the problem would have to be sorted out before a display ban starts to be rolled out next year in Scotland. There are fears that it will become even more difficult to distinguish between fake and genuine cigarettes.
Reference: Cut in port police linked to surge in tobacco smuggling by Ulster [one of 4-provinces of Ireland] thugs
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