tobacco smuggling in Scotland has risen by a third in the past two years and is being used to fund paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland and Eastern European criminal gangs, according to a new report.
A survey carried out last year by former Scotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector Will O’Reilly found that 9.5 per cent of cigarettes for sale in Scotland were either counterfeit, illicit whites or smuggled brands compared to 7.1 per cent in 2011.
The investigation was carried out on behalf of tobacco giant Philip Morris, which claims that the Scottish Government’s plans to bring in plain packaging will lead to a growth in black-market tobacco.
Mr O’Reilly, who toured tenregions in Scotland, found that Eastern European gangs were responsible for the smuggling in the east of the country while paramilitary groups were responsible in the west.
He said: “There is credible intelligence that in the west of the country much of the illicit product is smuggled in from Northern Ireland. Paramilitary groups such as the UDA are believed to control much of the supply and distribution.”
Mr O’Reilly managed to make 122 purchases of illicit cigarettes with 31 per cent so-called ‘whites’, which are made to a lower standard and from a mixture of non-tobacco products.
It also emerged that 50 per cent of the areas in Scotland had not seen any prosecutions for illicit cigarettes.
In “The Barras” market in Glasgow and Ayr Sunday Market he found sellers showing no concern for law enforcement, shouting “Cigarettes, Tobacco” with the products displayed in plastic trays leaning against wall.
Other places selling illicit tobacco were a 50-year-old’s home in Ayr, pubs in Airdrie, Dumfries and Rosyth, a cash for clothes shop in Inverness, a butchers in Greenock, and shops in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. One shop had a secret trap door where illicit cigarettes were hidden.
The cheapest illicit whites found were priced at £3 per pack of 20. Other were on sale between £3.50 to £4 per pack. Well-known international brands were being sold at around £4 and £5 per pack.
Mr O’Reilly said: “Just as armed robberies of the 1970s and 1980s made way for the drugs trade and large scale fraud in the 90s, so a new crime of choice has emerged, which carries even less risk and even greater profits.
“The trade in illicit tobacco has become the primary source of revenue for criminal gangs and terrorist groups and it has already reached epidemic proportions in parts of Scotland.
“An estimated 500 million more cigarettes were smuggled into the UK in 2012-13 than in 2011-12.
“Poorly thought through regulation, such as plain packaging, could make the situation worse rather than better in Scotland.”