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NEWS Wednesday, 10 March, 1999, 15:26 GMT
'Smuggling czar' to lead clampdown
smoke
One in 10 cigarettes has been smuggled
A "smuggling czar" is to be appointed to lead efforts to crackdown on the massive trade in smuggled tobacco.

The official, who will be similar to the government's drugs czar, will co-ordinate the fight against smugglers and will work closely with Customs and Excise.

Chancellor Gordon Brown signalled his intention to clampdown on bootleggers in his Budget as he announced tobacco duty would again rise by 5% above the rate of inflation.

"We are talking about organised crime. The loss of 1.5bn in revenues is not something we are prepared to accept without taking action," he said.

hellawell
Keith Hellawell: The UK's 'drugs czar'
The Treasury estimates that 10% of cigarettes sold in the UK are smuggled, compared with only 3% a few years ago.

About two-thirds of hand-rolled tobacco is also thought to have been smuggled.

Tobacco companies have warned that the Budget tax increase will only make the problem worse.

They say the potential profits from smuggling are now even more lucrative because the price gap has widened between UK cigarettes and those from countries where taxes are lower.

Cutting tobacco duty to the levels found in other European countries is the only way to deal with the problem, they argue.

A similar plea has been made by the drinks industry which has called for alcohol duty to be reduced to discourage alcohol smuggling.

Czar mania

The appointment of czars - experts to co-ordinate policy for a particular problem or issue - is an idea that New Labour has copied from the US.

bush
George Bush: Father of all the czars
The concept began in 1989 when President George Bush appointed a drugs czar in the face of increasing public concern about the spread of narcotics.

The former Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, Keith Hellawell, became the first UK drugs czar in January 1998, fulfilling Labour's manifesto commitment to create such a post.

However, Mr Hellawell's official and less soundbite-friendly title is the UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister.

Since his appointment, the government has also named a "streets czar" to help the homeless.

It will also shortly appoint an "Internet czar" to promote e-commerce and co-ordinate policy between government departments tackling Internet issues.

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