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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 16:57 GMT
Tobacco boost for Channel shoppers
Shoppers will have more spending power
Cross-Channel shoppers are to be allowed to bring more cheap cigarettes into Britain.

The number travellers can bring home, for their own use, will be raised from 800 to 3,200, the Treasury announced.

The move follows recent criticism of Customs' tactics in clamping down on travellers suspected of trying to evade tobacco duty by bringing in cigarettes to sell on the black market.

The measures make clear that Customs activity is legal and fair but tough on those who attempt to smuggle

John Healey, Economic Secretary
The new regulations will abolish the burden of proof on individuals to show that goods brought in are for their personal use, said Economic Secretary John Healey, the minister responsible for Customs and Excise.

He said: "The measures I am announcing today will help make the distinction between smugglers and honest shoppers even clearer.

"The measures make clear that Customs activity is legal and fair but tough on those who attempt to smuggle."

Fairer system

The emphasis would switch from shoppers having to prove the goods were for their personal use, to Customs having to prove they were intended for sale, he added.

The amount of hand-rolled tobacco shoppers will be allowed to carry will rise from 1kg to 3kg.

Treasury officials denied the measures were in response to recent criticisms of Customs' tactics, insisting they were part of a long-term strategy, but acknowledged they would make the system more "proportionate".

Mr Healey made it clear it was only changing the "indicative levels" or guidelines of how much cigarettes and tobacco, travellers could bring across the Channel.

He said people were entitled to bring back as much alcohol and tobacco products as they wanted as long as it was for their own use.

However, the new measures would make it easier for Customs' officers to identify smugglers and boot-leggers.

Lost revenue

Speaking on BBC News 24, Mr Healey said: "If someone is bringing back 5,000 cigarettes they should expect to be asked by Customs to explain how the 5,000 cigarettes are likely to be for their own use.

"They have got to have some good reasons or explanations.

"If Customs are satisfied you are bringing it in for commercial use rather than personal use, then you're liable to have those goods seized and possibly your vehicle seized as well."

He said the main target of the initiative was smugglers.

Man loading up car with cigarettes in France
Cigarettes must be for personal use
Tobacco smuggling grew so rapidly in the 1990s that by 2000-01, 20% of the cigarette market in the UK was illegal - at a cost of 3.5bn in lost revenue.

Mr Healey said the great majority of cigarette smuggling was carried out by "serious and organised criminals" who were concealing a million or more cigarettes at a time in freight consignments.

Officials said the increase in the indicative levels for cigarettes would raise the normal amount which could be brought in for personal use from six weeks supply for the average smoker to six months.

The new measures will apply with immediate effect.

Target smugglers

The UK anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) has given a cautious welcome to the changes.

Ash director Clive Bates said: "The test of the policy will be how hard Customs comes down on those bringing in more than the new limit with the obvious intention of smuggling.

"Of course it's bad for a smoker's health to stock up on thousands of cheap cigs, but our interest is in supporting the overwhelming majority that want to stop smoking and who have no intention of visiting Belgium or France to buy tobacco."

The Tobacco Manufacturers' Association has welcomed the move for personal buyers, but its chief executive Tim Lord believes resources must be targeted at stamping out smuggling.

He said: "We should not lose sight of the fact that the problem exists because UK tobacco tax is the highest in the world.

"Successive governments have, through their excessive tobacco taxation policies, created a situation whereby the UK market is an irresistible magnet for smugglers".

What is your reaction to the decision to allow you to bring more cigarettes into the UK?

Have your say

I welcome the increase in the guidelines

Gary Sutherland, England
Although I am not a smoker myself I welcome the increase in the guidelines as being an indication that the government and HMC&E are finally starting to accept the inevitable which is that ordinary people are fed up with the extortionate level of Excise Duty paid by people in the UK, compared to our European neighbours. I greatly enjoy drinking wine and look forward to similar 'common sense' levels being applied to imported alcohol in the near future.
Gary Sutherland, England

As a citizen of the EU surely I can choose to shop where I want for my own personal goods within the EU and not be subject to arbitrary HM Customs "guidelines". My wife and I smoke a carton each a week so where the idea of 6 months usage as 3200 comes from is at best notional. What possible legal standing can this have?
Peter Corrie, Northern Ireland

About time too!
Anon, UK

About time, too. The limit is still too low and doesn't acknowledge the underlying problem - we are overtaxed on too many things.
Toby Aldrich, UK

We are rapidly running out of places where we can smoke

Steve Robey, UK
It's all very well bringing in all these ciggies, but we are rapidly running out of places where we can smoke them in peace!
Steve Robey, UK

I reckon that we were OK with the old system where everyone was allowed 200 fags and a couple of bottles of booze. Anything over, you had to pay customs. What's wrong with that? I am a smoker and drinker as well and not one of the do-gooders.
Paul Fisher, Italy

Staggeringly inept...more smokers, more painful deaths and a bigger burden on the health service.
Jeff, UK

About time and all. With the prices of tobacco in the UK, it's no wonder more and more people buy them abroad.
Gary, UK

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Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The main focus will be on big time smugglers"
Treasury Minister John Healey
"Our regime doesn't affect shoppers' rights to bring back what they want for their own use"
Tim Lord of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association
"We're not seeing the real problem of smuggling addressed"
See also:

29 Oct 02 | Politics
31 Jan 02 | England
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