PORTSMOUTH is one of the worst cities in the country for black market cigarettes, a survey claims.
The trade has been linked to criminal gangs and terrorist organisations. The research was carried out by MSIntelligence on behalf of cigarette company Philip Morris International.
Researchers collected thrown-away cigarette packs to try and find out what proportion were sold on the black market.
Portsmouth was sixth out of 105 cities studied, with 42.12 per cent of all the packets collected in the final three months of 2012 being counterfeit. In 2011 the result was 9.3 per cent.
The wider Waterlooville area came in fifth place, with 43.51 per cent, compared to 10.3 per cent in 2011.
HMRC estimates that smuggled cigarettes cost the taxpayer up to £3.6bn in revenue during the 2009-10 financial year.
Raymond Culverwell, 64, owner of JG Riley Newsagents, in Locksway Road, Milton, said he hadn’t heard of bootleg cigarettes being sold, but said it was a worry if they were.
He added: ‘If this is happening in Portsmouth then it’s a concern because the government isn’t getting the tax on them. It also affects retailers.’
Alan Cufley, Portsmouth City Council’s head of corporate assets, business and standards said there was no evidence to suggest Portsmouth is different to anywhere else in the country.
‘But we are not complacent and are mindful of our responsibilities,’ he added.
‘We always take seriously the issue of illegal cigarettes. Only recently an undercover exercise was carried out in a number of targeted premises across the city to test whether counterfeit or non-duty cigarettes were being sold, but no evidence was found.
‘As a major port we work closely with HMRC to tackle non-duty paid cigarettes and will act immediately if there are any illegal trade concerns or react to information received. We have overseen successful prosecutions for the sale of non-duty paid cigarettes, including a pioneering case where a shop keeper was fined over £3,000 and ordered to do 180 hours of unpaid work.’
An HMRC spokeswoman said ‘The government has made nearly a billion pounds available to HMRC to tackle avoidance, evasion and fraud and £25m of that will be used over the next four years to support the strategy to tackle the source, supply and demand for illicit tobacco.’