The sale of illegal cigarettes is ‘rife’ in area claims Watton

PUP councillor Russell Watton
PUP councillor Russell Watton

PUP councillor Russell Watton has told the Council Chamber that the sale of illegal cigarettes in the Coleraine area is ‘rife’.

Watton was speaking at last Tuesday night’s Environment Committee, when members were informed about new rules for tobacco retailers.

DUP councillor Sam Cole asked about the sale of illegal cigarettes in the area, however he was informed that the issue was nothing to do with Council, that it was infact an HMRC and PSNI issue.

Responding, PUP councillor Watton said he knew that the problem was ‘rife’ in the Coleraine area.

Watton claimed that some individuals in the town ‘were making a fortune’ out of selling illegal cigarettes and tobacco.

“These people are making a good living out of this,” he said.

The Times contacted HMRC, in a statement they said: “HMRC, working with other law enforcement agencies, has more than halved the size of the illicit market in cigarettes since 2000 and the illicit hand-rolling tobacco market by a third.

“In 2014-15 HMRC prevented over £746 million in revenue losses as a result of investigating organised crime groups, referred over 400 individuals for prosecution and, with Border Force seized around 1.8 billion cigarettes and 313 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco.

“Tobacco fraud cost the UK £2.1 billion in 2014/15.

“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

On a similar topic, Sinn Fein’s Kieran Mullholland asked if council carried out test purchases on the sale of e-cigarettes, to check if retailers were abiding by the age restrictions.

Enviornmental Services Director, Aidan McPeak said he would come back to members.

He said that he wasn’t aware that any test purchases had been carried out but pointed out that Council had the ability to carry out the exercise if they so wished.