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Dáil Question to Finance on retailers fears on introduction of plain packaging cigarettes

QUESTION NO: 93 for WRITTEN ANSWER on 11/03/2014

To ask the Minister for Finance in view of proposals to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, if plans are being made to increase surveillance on the illegal cigarette trade taking into consideration retailers’ fears that there will be an increase in such activities; if he is satisfied that the current manner of detection which includes three mobile scanners is sufficient to continue monitoring the illegal importation of tobacco products at ports here; if the mobile scanner van will be augmented with additional units; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY.

I am assured by the Revenue Commissioners that combating the illegal tobacco trade is a high priority for them. Their work against this illegal activity includes a range of measures that are designed to identify and target those who are involved in the supply or sale of illicit products, with a view to seizing the illicit products and prosecuting those responsible. This multifaceted strategy includes ongoing analysis of the nature and extent of the problem, developing and sharing intelligence on a national, EU and international basis, the use of analytics and detection technologies and ensuring the optimum deployment of resources at points of importation and within the country.

Interception of illicit tobacco products is achieved through a combination of risk analysis, profiling, intelligence and the screening of cargo, vehicles, baggage and postal packages. Revenue officers also target the illicit trade at post-importation level by carrying out intelligence-based operations and random checks at retail outlets, markets and private and commercial premises.

I understand that the Revenue Commissioners are satisfied that the standardised packaging of cigarettes will not damage their work against the illicit tobacco trade, as they rely on the tax stamp to identify tax paid tobacco products and the standardised packaging legislation must accommodate the stamp. The tax stamp contains all features possible to minimise the risk of counterfeiting.

The Revenue Commissioners currently have three mobile scanner systems. Two of these are mobile X-ray scanner systems that are based at Dublin Port and Rosslare Ferry Port respectively and which are also available for deployment, on a risk assessment basis, at other ports and locations. The third is a scanner van, a specialist vehicle incorporating an X-ray facility and radiation detection facilities, the uses of which include monitoring baggage and cargo at ports and airports for tobacco, drugs, radioactive materials or other contraband.

The Revenue Commissioners continuously review their detection technology requirements, taking account of developments in those technologies, and have availed of part-funding under the European Union’s Hercule II programme to acquire equipment of this kind. I understand that they are generally satisfied with their current scanning capabilities and consider that the container ports are adequately serviced by the two mobile X-ray container scanning systems. I am advised also that the performance of the scanner van since its acquisition is being evaluated on an ongoing basis and that the possibility of augmenting this resource with additional units is being considered.

The Revenue Commissioners will maintain their commitment to acting against all stages of the supply chain for illicit tobacco products and will continue to make every effort to ensure that those involved in the illicit trade are brought to account before the Courts for their criminal activities. A new multi-annual strategy for dealing with the problem is being drawn up, and the Revenue Commissioners will consult with key stakeholders in preparing this document.

ENDS