Rising Illicit Cigarette Consumption in the UK
An independent report commissioned by Philip Morris International (PMI) and conducted by KPMG has revealed a concerning rise in the consumption of counterfeit and contraband cigarettes in the UK. The report, which examined the consumption of illicit cigarettes across the European Union and the UK, found that consumption in the UK reached its highest volume ever recorded since the study began in 2011, totaling 3.61 billion in 2022.
Despite an overall decline in cigarette consumption, illicit consumption increased by 3.1% in 2022, accounting for 21.2% of total consumption in the UK. The northeast of England was particularly identified as the region with the highest concentration of counterfeit and contraband cigarettes.
The report shed light on the reasons behind the rising illicit cigarette consumption, with economic uncertainty and pressure being significant factors. As living costs continue to increase, nearly four in 10 smokers reported being impacted by these rising costs, leading them to turn to illicit tobacco as a more affordable option.
In addition to cigarettes, the report also highlighted the growing presence of illicit vape devices. PMI's test purchase visits across the UK, conducted by a specialist team tasked with gathering evidence and intelligence on illicit products, revealed that one in 12 independent convenience stores were found to be selling illegal disposable vape devices. This evolution of the black market to include illegal vaping products adds to the concerns surrounding illicit tobacco and nicotine-containing products in the country.
Cem Uzundal, the head of field force UK and Ireland for Philip Morris Limited, expressed his concerns about the growing trade of illicit tobacco and nicotine-containing products in the UK. He emphasized the need for a collaborative effort to tackle the issue, stating, "Our undercover operatives regularly visit retail premises nationwide, assisting trading standards with valuable intelligence. However, we recognize that they are understaffed and under-resourced. It is imperative that we work together to address this issue effectively."
Uzundal highlighted the importance of manufacturers and retailers joining forces to increase the availability of and promote affordable smoke-free alternatives in order to discourage smokers from resorting to harmful counterfeit options.
The findings of the report underscore the need for concerted efforts from all stakeholders to combat the rising consumption of illicit cigarettes and nicotine-containing products in the UK.
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