Sunday, 20 April 2008

Smoke Signals

Here's a cracking story from the Sun: "FAKE cigarettes being smuggled into Britain contain poisonous arsenic and even rat droppings."

It seems that these near-perfect fake ciggs (which, of course, are not subject to the Government's almost criminal levels of taxation) have allegedly been found to contain formaldehyde, cadmium and benzene, as well as sawdust, beetles and rodent droppings, according to the bods at HM Revenue and Customs. Unsurprisingly, they're supposed to be even worse for us than "ordinary" smokes.

Charming, but how do they know this? It's claimed that customs officers in the West Midlands seized over 50 million fake ciggs last year alone - did they peel them all open and examine their contents? If they did, it seems a bit of a waste of effort, and if they didn't the claims may be a little difficult to substantiate.

Of course, it may well be that these hard-working public servants are absolutely correct, and are just doing their public duty in warning us about the risk of contraband tobacco. But, cynical as I am, I can't help catching the whiff of rat. This would be the same HMRC that, only last year, couldn't manage to hang on to a couple of CDs full of sensitive personal information, right?

It would also be the same HMRC that must know perfectly well that they only ever manage to seize a small(ish) proportion of smuggled goods, whatever they may be. And if 50 million is a small proportion, just imagine how many fake ciggs must be flooding into the UK every year - and how much that is costing the Government in lost tax. Wouldn't it be cheaper and easier to stop people wanting to purchase illegal smokes than to make it impossible for them to do so? And wouldn't claims of poison and rat crap be a good way to do it?

I can see how the idea might appeal to the dark ops people in HMRC, but it's fundamentally flawed. Those of us who can afford it tend to buy legal ciggs; those that can't afford it tend to be, shall we say, a little further down the intellectual ladder. They are unlikely to be able to read the story, or remember it if someone reads it to them, or care about it even if they do.

Probably the best way to control the influx of dodgy ciggs and obtain the Government's desired level of taxation is, perversely, to cut the rate of tax on tobacco. That way, more people will be able to afford to buy them legally, and so will contribute to the Government's revenues. It won't happen, though - can you imagine the fuss from the Health Fascists if there was even a remote chance that smokers might be able to enjoy a smoke in peace?

Billy Seggars.

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