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Contraband cigarettes in Brick Lane - why punitive tax fails

Tom Winnifrith
Sunday 9 June 2013

My partner is in London and so for a laugh we are staying in a hotel just off Brick Lane in Spitalfields. Needing some of my poison of choice I wandered to a small store opposite the hotel last night and asked for 20 Marlboro Light. £8.50 I was told. Sure.

A pack of 20 cigarettes costs anywhere between £8 and £9.50 if you are mad enough to use WH Smith on Network Rail.

As I fumbled for a tenner the chap said, want a cheaper pack? £5. Yup, I slurred, having had a few drinks with my partner and colourful James earlier. And so from under the counter I was offered 20 Marlboro Light from Russia as you can see in the picture below.



When I pay £8.50 normally, around £7.65 goes to the UK Government. The rest is shares between Marlboro, its distribution company and the retailer. Under this revised arrangement Marlboro probably still gets 50p. The Russian taxman gets another 50p ( or perhaps nothing) and the criminal gangs who import this stuff ( I read today that this is how many of St Gerry's former comrads in the IRA are now employed) and retailer share between £4 and £4.50. The UK taxman gets nothing.

The huge profits you can make from flogging illegal fags means that crime DOES pay. The greed of the UK Government which knows that smokers fund not only the costs of treating them on the NHS but far more besides but are an easy target as one is supposedly "taxing for a moral purpose" means that it has created an opportunity for crime.  Punitive taxation like prohibition is not only regressive taxation but also a real crime generator.

So what should I do? Should I go to the police and tip them off? I do not agree with crime and suppose I should. But crime is inevitable as things stand. I guess I shall buy one more back before I do anything.

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About Tom Winnifrith
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Tom Winnifrith is the editor of TomWinnifrith.com. When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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