ONE in 12 corner shops in Yorkshire is under threat due to lost sales resulting from tobacco smuggling and cross-border shopping, it is claimed.
A survey by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance found that one in 12 shopkeepers has considered closing due to the impact of illegal trade in tobacco.
It said that a quarter of convenience stores in the region have considered reducing staff numbers for the same reason.
And it warned that Government plans to force tobacco companies to package cigarettes and pipe tobacco in plain wrappers would play into the hands of the smugglers – making it easier for them to pass off counterfeit cigarettes..
Nationally, 13% of corner shops have considered closing because of lost sales as a result of tobacco smuggling and cross-border shopping – while a third have considered shedding jobs.
Chris Armitage, who runs Taylors Food Store at Netherton, said tobacco smuggling and people illegally selling on large volumes of cigarettes they brought back from holiday was a big problem for the convenience store sector.
He said: “We are not as badly affected as town and city centre shops, but you know when a ‘shipment’ has come in because you won’t see your customers for a few days. You know there’s something going around.
“It has a noticeable effect on sales because if they are not coming in for cigarettes they are not buying other things such as chocolate bars.”
Mr Armitage said plain packaging for cigarettes would add to the problem for retailers.
“There will be a big impact if we go ahead with plain packing,” he claimed. “Any Tom, Dick or Harry can make one of these packages up. The criminal gangs will be rubbing their hands.”
Commenting on the survey findings, Alliance spokeswoman Samantha Coldbeck said: “These results are very worrying for independent retailers.
“It demonstrates that tobacco smuggling is so prevalent that it is threatening the existence of a part of the fabric of our communities that so many people rely on.
“The UK is such a hotspot for smuggling because the high tax on tobacco makes it one of the most profitable places in the world for criminals to carry out their trade.
“The Government needs to allow tax levels in other countries in Europe to catch up and come more in to line with the UK so that there is not such a huge financial temptation for smugglers to focus their activities here.”
Dave Tingle, a Sheffield retailer and Alliance member, said: “Introducing plain packaging of tobacco would play into the hands of smugglers as they will no longer have to spend time and money copying the complex variety of branding currently present across the range of tobacco products.
“So that will mean more profit for the smugglers which will be channelled into underworld activities such as people trafficking and prostitution. In addition, more sales for the smugglers means lost sales for legitimate retailers like me.”