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Last Updated:  Thursday, 6 March, 2003, 00:19 GMT
Smuggling threatens corner shops
A corner shop
Corner shops face the axe
Bootleg tobacco and alcohol cost UK corner shops more than 20,000 each last year, putting many in jeopardy, research has revealed.

Over the last five years, tobacco and alcohol brought in by booze cruise Britons and smuggling rings has cost independent retailers nearly 250,000 each in lost sales.

Retailers claim that their sales have fallen further since the government last year relaxed limits on the amounts of tobacco and alcohol Britons could bring back to the UK.

The research, by trade magazine Independent Retail News, has prompted the government to promise to act to ease shopkeepers' plight.

Fourfold increase

Interviews with more than 500 independent UK retailers revealed that the sector lost a further 930m last year to bootleggers, with local stores losing an average of 20,696.

Our local stores cannot continue to haemorrhage cash on this scale out of their businesses and continue to stay open
Richard Siddle, editor, Independent Retail News

The worst affected area was the Midlands, where average losses averaged 37,885, with Welsh stores losing 31,139, and London shops 25,675.

The interviews also revealed that counterfeit cigarettes were still a serious problem, with 15% of retailers admitting that they had been offered illegal tobacco products in the last year.

"Local stores cannot continue to haemorrhage cash on this scale out of their businesses and continue to stay open," Richard Siddle, editor of Independent Retail News, said.

In particular, Mr Siddle identified the government's decision to increase by up to four times the amount of cigarettes and alcohol people can bring into the UK as giving a "green light to bootleggers to literally go and fill their boots".

In response, Customs Minister John Healey MP has promised action, but the research will come as a blow to the government at a time when it claims to be bringing smuggling under control.

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