INDEPENDENT law-abiding retailers are losing customers as a result of illegal tobacco in the city.
Last week the Argus revealed the threat of the rogue industry on Newport, after an investigation uncovered the biggest haul ever seized in the city hidden in three shops.
Trading standards are still processing the seizures from the Newport premises, but have estimated there to have been more than 365,000 cigarettes and 3,150 packets of rolling tobacco recovered in the raid.
Although trading standards’ initial estimate of the retail value was an estimated half a million pounds, they have since re-evaluated this to be at least £250,000.
This figure refers to the value of the products if there were to be sold legally.
Non-UK duty paid tobacco not only represents a loss of tax revenue to the Treasury – which was estimated to be at least £1.8 billion in 2012/13 – but more locally, a loss of profits to Wales’ 3,999 retailers that sell tobacco.
According to the Office of Fair Trading, tobacco sales constitute more than 30 per cent of revenue for independent shopkeepers.
Soraya Ali has been working at St Woolos Wine Lodge and Convenience Store for 15 years.
She said: “It’s a massive problem and I’ve seen a big increase in the last year. It affects everybody.”
Ms Ali said customers had asked her for cheap tobacco. She said she was aware of a number of Newport retailers selling illegal tobacco and welcomed the news of last week’s raids.
“I’m glad [trading standards] are doing it. I hope they get punished,” she said.
“People are going elsewhere to buy cheap fags. I’m losing customers who would have come here to buy their cigarettes but then buy others things too like chocolate or food.”
As revealed last week, these illegal products are also being sold to people under 18 – undermining other shopkeepers’ efforts to prevent children from having access to tobacco.
With the volume of illegal products found in the city, there is no denying the market for these goods. UK taxes on tobacco are among the highest in the world and in times of austerity smokers are seeking a cheaper alternative.
Following this year’s budget, a 12.5g pack of tobacco costs around £4.25 in the UK, while 50g – four times the amount – of the same can be bought in Belgium for just £3.60.
The Argus’ test purchasing investigation found a pack of 20 illegal cigarettes being sold for £3.50 and 50g packets of counterfeit Amber Leaf tobacco for £4.
Newport City Council cabinet member for licensing and statutory functions, Councillor Gail Giles, said: “It is important that sellers of any illegal and counterfeit products in Newport are caught to protect the businesses of those who sell products legally.
“It is unfair their trade is being hit.”
Anyone with information on people selling illegal and counterfeit products is urged to contact trading standards on 01633 656656.