Monday, 12 August 2013

On illegal tobacco undermining legitimate sales

Sheila Duffy once more attempts to make a case that tobacco retailer groups are only arguing against tobacco control because they are supported by tobacco companies. And fails.
After a long and loud campaign telling their members that counterfeit tobacco is damaging local shops, the TRA asked shopkeepers whether they thought their shop was at risk of closing due to counterfeit and smuggled tobacco. 
We are not told how those involved made sure of an unbiased sample or whether they just relied on their existing friends and contacts.
Of those who responded, 92 were from Scotland.
So the dramatic “one in ten” headline is based on nine individuals across Scotland giving their personal opinion.
That kind of survey sounds like the way thirdhand smoke was invented: the difference being that the fairy story about high taxes making opportunities for black market traders is written by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, and the other story is created by somebody wanting to create a bad press around tobacco, and using the 'scientific' press to achieve it.

It is true of course that people giving opinions does not make fact. The argument that illicit tobacco results from high taxes has the benefit of being plausible. The hypothesis that higher taxes on tobacco creates opportunities for illegal traders cannot be argued by suggesting that it is generated solely by tobacco companies and their associates. Black market opportunities arise when there is a large gap between the production cost and the official price, and that gap is deliberately enlarged in the case of tobacco, since high taxes are meant to be a deterrent, especially to the young. The larger the gap between production and retail costs, the more illegal traders will be able to live comfortably off the margin. Tobacco control advocates must show evidence to refute this logic – it is not enough simply to deny it simply on the grounds that tobacco companies claim it to be true.

Nor is it convincing to say that HMRC deny any increase in smuggling. How can HMRC comfortably give estimates about how much illegal trading goes on, when it is by definition part of the mission of the illegal trader to slip under the radar? And how can HMRC confidently state that less smoking goes on? (or that people are not abandoning tobacco in favour of more dangerous substances)? Nothing appears straightforward in the world of illicit tobacco detection.

In the world of Smoke Free North East, the story that tobacco smuggling is under control no doubt has a robust following. The number of smokers is declining too (isn't it?). An independent survey that Smoke Free North East commissioned gives heartening news about the decline in illicit tobacco that you can read here. Deborah Arnott of ASH throws in her wisdom:
This survey is important new evidence that Britain is getting to grips with the illicit tobacco trade. Thanks to hard work by customs, trading standards, police, health and tobacco control groups around the country the level of tobacco smuggling is continuing to fall. Every independent survey shows this.
Can this be interpreted to mean that any survey not showing the UK getting to grips with the illicit tobacco trade is by definition not funded appropriately and is not to be trusted? Surveys (which produces a limited range of answers on a basis of self-selection) do feature reliable results sometimes, then, in the eyes of tobacco control?


Jonathan Bagley said...

I frequently read that half the rolling tobacco consumed in the UK is bought abroad and where I live, there has been a reliable and almost continuos supply for the last 15 years, so it is certainly not under control.

Junican said...

You have to watch ASH definitions. Being public relations and propaganda specialists, these people define words such as 'illicit however they feel like defining them. What, for example, is the difference between 'fake' tobacco and 'counterfeit' tobacco? In fact, what IS fake tobacco? Does illicit tobacco include tobacco on which duty has been paid in the EU but has been confiscated by customs?
It seems to me that the only reliable measure is Duty collected, but, as far as I can see, no figures are available for quantities.
If anyone would like to see the value of tobacco duties over the past few years, here is a site:

Smoking Scot said...

Belinda, can you please assist in helping to nail the pro ban comments on this "investigation" by the Edinburgh Evening News?

Junican said...

I've just had a bit of a go over there, SS.
The Zealots usually get in early on when they know that it is more likely that their comments will be read. They do this to give the impression that the public is on-side. I suspect most of their comments are lies. It only takes a dozen or so people to know that the article is going to appear to give an impression of substantial support.

Belinda said...

I've had a go too. There are certainly many anti-votes going on at present. I think you are right that it will die down Junican, though I think there are a couple of die-hards around that will keep the argument going for weeks if you let them.

Anonymous said...

On a different note, but still the same tune, how is it that most of the top ten most wanted tax evaders are wanted for the illegal import of cigarettes?