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Stronger powers to combat illicit tobacco come into force

New sanctions come into effect for those found selling illicit tobacco products.

More than 27 million illicit cigarettes and 7,500kg of hand-rolling tobacco were seized under Operation CeCe in its first 2 years, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and National Trading Standards have revealed.

This comes as new powers come into force from today, 20 July, which could see penalties of up to £10,000 for any businesses and individuals who sell illicit tobacco products. The sanctions will bolster the government’s efforts to tackle the illicit tobacco market and reduce tobacco duty fraud.

The new powers will also see Local Authority Trading Standards given the ability to refer cases to HMRC for further investigation. HMRC, where appropriate, will administer the penalties and ensure the appropriate sanction is applied and enforced.

Operation CeCe is a joint HMRC-National Trading Standards operation which has been working to seize illicit tobacco since January 2021.

Nis Bandara, HMRC’s Deputy Director for Excise and Environmental Taxes, said:

Trade in illicit tobacco costs the Exchequer more than £2 billion in lost tax revenue each year. It also damages legitimate businesses, undermines public health and facilitates the supply of tobacco to young people.

These sanctions build on HMRC’s enforcement of illicit tobacco controls, will strengthen our response against those involved in street level distribution, and act as a deterrent to anyone thinking that they can make a quick and easy sale and undercut their competition.

Kate Pike, Lead Officer for the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said:

Trading Standards Officers across the country work with colleagues in Public Health to reduce the harm from smoking and with enforcement partners to disrupt criminality in our communities.

We welcome this addition to our toolkit of measures to tackle illegal tobacco, ensuring that those who seek to profit from supplying these products face substantial penalties for doing so, and their ability to continue to trade is severely impacted.

Lord Michael Bichard, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:

The illegal tobacco trade harms local communities and affects honest businesses. Through Operation CeCe, we have removed 27 million illegal cigarettes and 7,500kg of hand-rolling tobacco from the supply chain and we welcome these new measures to clamp down further on the illicit tobacco trade.

HMRC will launch a new illicit tobacco strategy later in the year which will replace ‘From Leaf to Light’, which has been the guiding strategy for tackling the illicit tobacco market since 2015.

Further information

The Finance Act 2022 legislated for tougher sanctions to be introduced to tackle the sale of illicit tobacco. These include a new penalty of up to £10,000 for serious contraventions.

Further information on the new penalties

Illicit tobacco is any tobacco product that is sold in the UK without the payment of excise duty.

The Tobacco Track and Trace (TT&T) system, introduced in 2019, tracks legitimate tobacco products through the supply chain. The new sanctions are based on detection of non-compliance with TT&T regulations.

Further guidance on TT&T

Anyone with information about suspected tobacco fraud can contact HMRC on 0800 788 887 or search ‘Report Fraud HMRC’ on GOV.UK.


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