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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK
Call for tobacco smuggling inquiry
Tobacco haul
Tobacco seizures have increased
MPs have urged the Department of Trade and Industry to investigate claims linking a tobacco firm to large-scale cigarette smuggling.

The hard-hitting report, released on Wednesday, says that criminal proceedings should be considered against British American Tobacco (BAT) should the allegations prove true.

BAT has been accused of orchestrating, managing and controlling cigarette smuggling. It strenuously denies the claims.



These messages should be harder-hitting

Health Select Committee report on smoking
The report from the House of Commons Health Select Committee also calls for cigarette packets to carry harder-hitting health warnings, including messages that smoking could cause impotence.

The committee calls for an end to the current voluntary agreements over advertising with the industry and tougher regulation on issues such as additives.

The MPs said: "These messages should be harder hitting and more relevant to consumers than those currently used."

Euro-MPs are also voting on a measure which could lead to vastly-enlarged pack warnings, and even pictures of rotting teeth and lungs on packets.

The committee also called on the government to set tougher targets to stop people smoking - and to protect non-smokers from the effects of other people's smoke. Tobacco "bootlegging" costs the Treasury an estimated 2.5bn a year in lost duty.

It is alleged that some companies were "complicit" in organised tobacco smuggling by being prepared to supply large quantities of cigarettes to sources in continental Europe used by organised bootlegging operations.

The anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) presented evidence to the committee from company memos which it says supports its claim.

In addition, it has presented what it says is evidence of tobacco firms benefiting from the activities of smugglers in a variety of other countries worldwide.

The committee said: "The allegations need to be looked at independently and we therefore call on the DTI to investigate them. If they prove to be substantiated, the case for criminal proceedings against BAT should be considered.

"If they prove to be false, then those perpetrating them should publicly apologise."

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers could use powers under the Companies Act to launch a probe of BAT's accounts and grill its staff under oath.

Claims denied



Clive Bates
Clive Bates: pressing for an investigation
BAT's deputy chairman, former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke, described the claims as "far-fetched", insisting that the company only sold to legitimate outlets, and paid all excise duties.

And a senior BAT executive described the Commons Committee as a "kangaroo court".

Clive Bates, from Ash, said that while the bulk of the report was "solid" work, its priority was an investigation into the smuggling claims.

He said: "What we need now is a complete rethink and overhaul of the regulatory framework and a serious investigation into the rogue business practices related to smuggling."

As many as one in five cigarettes smoked in Britain may have been smuggled in.

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14 Jun 00 | Europe
Europe's smoking shock tactics
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