This report, written by Trajectory and sponsored by SICPA, reveals insights about the illicit tobacco trade in the UK.

The measurement of illicit tobacco consumption – as with all illicit activities – is notoriously difficult to measure. Estimates vary; in 2013/2014, HMRC estimated that illicit consumption represented 10% of total UK consumption, while data produced by KPMG’s estimate on behalf of the tobacco industry is 60% greater at 16%. There are suggestions that the tobacco industry overestimate the nature of illicit tobacco consumption, while HMRC have received criticism from both the National Audit Office (NAO) and parliament, admitting they must improve their methodology.

The report explores the current trends in illicit tobacco and compares it to trends in overall crime to understand if this is an isolated issue or a systematic one, the market for illicit tobacco and whether demographic differences are present, where illicit products are purchased, and the brands and types of illicit tobacco products that are purchased. The report concludes that illicit tobacco is easy to attain and that more than half of all smokers are likely to consume it, with genuine brands more prominent than illicit whites like Jin Ling.

With uncertainty on the horizon in the form of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, and the potential impacts of plain packaging to the trade of illicit tobacco, monitoring these trends will be of utmost importance – both to the tobacco industry, and to the UK government.