The Revenue Commissioners have estimated that the illegal cigarette trade cost the Exchequer approximately €384 million in lost excise duty and VAT during 2022. This staggering figure highlights the ongoing problem of tobacco smuggling in Ireland. Despite a survey showing an increase in the prevalence of illegal cigarettes circulating in Ireland last year, Finance Minister Michael McGrath said he is satisfied that Revenue remains “very alert” to the threat that tobacco smuggling poses.
The survey, carried out by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners, shows that in 2022, 17% of all cigarette packs held by smokers surveyed were classified as illegal. This is up from 13% in 2021. An illicit rate of 17% would equate to approximately 31.7m illegal packs consumed in Ireland. The estimated loss to the Exchequer through non-payment of excise duty and VAT is approximately €384m.
Of those illegal packs, nearly nine in 10 were classified as contraband, which means normal commercial brands, were bought either with duty paid or duty-free outside the country, and brought into the country. In addition, a further 13% of cigarette packs were found to be legal but with no Irish duty paid — up 8% from 2021. The survey also found 17% of pouches of roll-your-own tobacco held by smokers surveyed were classified as illegal and 10% were legal but with no Irish duty paid.
Speaking in response to several parliamentary questions on the issue of the illicit trade of cigarettes, Mr McGrath said that Revenue has controls in place to combat abuses of the duty-free regime at airports and ports. Where passengers are found to be carrying goods in excess of their duty-free allowances and have not declared the same at customers, “these excess goods may be seized with a view to prosecuting those involved”.
“At the core of these measures [Revenue] is identifying and targeting the smuggling of illicit tobacco products into the State, with a view to disrupting the supply chain, seizing the products and, where possible, prosecuting those involved,” he said. Mr McGrath added that he is “satisfied that Revenue is very alert to the threat that tobacco smuggling poses to health, to legitimate business interests and to the Exchequer”.
In 2022, the Revenue Commissioners seized 51.6m cigarettes valued at €39.5m, and 11,803kgs of tobacco with an estimated value of €8.5m. Additionally, it obtained 41 summary convictions relating to the sale of illicit tobacco, four of which were on indictment with fines of €76,250 imposed. There were 24 convictions relating to tobacco smuggling in 2022, four of which were on indictment, with fines of €35,100 imposed.
The ongoing issue of tobacco smuggling in Ireland is a major concern for the government, not only for the loss of revenue but also for the potential health risks associated with illegal tobacco products. The Revenue Commissioners are working hard to combat this issue and have made significant seizures and obtained convictions in 2022. However, it is clear that more needs to be done to tackle this problem and protect the health and wellbeing of Irish citizens.