Thursday, 22 March 2012

"Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk." - A budget for smugglers

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie -
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by !

The decision of the Chancellor to raise duties on alcohol and tobacco is, yet again, a great gift to Britain’s smugglers. With each rise in duty, with each imposed cost increase, the damage to legitimate business – pubs, corner shops, small brewers and such all dying, strangled by an unholy alliance between the New Puritan, the treasury mandarin and the criminal.

Last year, Brian Lenihan, then Irish Finance Minister explained all this:

I have decided not to make any changes to excise on tobacco in this Budget because I believe the high price is now giving rise to massive cigarette smuggling. My responsibility as Minister for Finance is to protect the tax base. I have full confidence in the effectiveness of the current multi agency approach but early in the New Year I want to explore what further measures we may need to stem the illegal flow of cigarettes into this country.

But let’s explore a little further and remember that this isn’t just about cigarettes but, in the UK, concerns beer as well. Pete Brown, beer writer extraordinaire, wrote today about the problems with beer and observed that people have shifted from fine ale to cheap wine and cheaper spirits:

Liver disease is increasing because people are switching from beer to stronger drinks.  We already know this though, because this has been true of every major alcoholism epidemic in history.  In the gin epidemic of the eighteenth century, beer was part of the solution, not the problem, as the immortal cartoons by Hogarth show.  It should be seen as that today.

But why is this? And why has the big drop in alcohol consumption been in on-sales – drinking in the pub – rather than off-sales – drinking at home? Firstly, the big brewers have shifted their attention from the boozer to the fridge – their volume now comes from people buying boxes of 24 bottles rather than going to the pub and drinking six pints.

Secondly, the smoking ban – people have started drinking at home or at a pre-arranged ‘smoky-drinky’ in some friend’s garage.

And thirdly, the price of booze makes smuggling and illegal production worthwhile – and you’re not going to get those products in the pub. And, if you’re smuggling, it makes sense to concentrate on the strong stuff which means wine and spirits rather than beer. The shift from beer to stronger drinks isn’t simply down to choice, it’s down to an ever larger chunk of the market being in the hands of criminals.

Kipling’s poem rather romanticises the smuggler but the true picture isn’t like that at all. These smugglers are the same sort who’ve been in the illegal import game for years, they already operate and control a multi-billion pound business doing just that:

An online report published by the Home Office in 2006 has estimated the UK drugs market to be worth £4.645bn in 2003/4[8], with a margin of error of +/- £1.154bn.

And, as we know, the people who run this smuggling business are prepared to use murder as a business tool.

So tell me New Puritans, would you prefer your daughter to get cigarettes from the corner shop or from the same man who sells cocaine, heroin and crack?



Anonymous said...

I wonder what they will think when the tobacco dealer moves in ,next door.
Exotic car in the drive of course.
Bling sparkling in the summer sun of the British countryside.
Ho ho!

Pete W said...

Not to mention legal smuggling. Three or four trips to Budapest a year and I can quite legally bring in all the cigarettes need - now I'm getting them for about a quarter of the price I'd pay here rather than a third and the number of British smokers who are still willing to be mugged by their own government must be ever diminishing