Main Image Credit Pablo Paul / Alamy Stock Photo
Illicit trade in tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceuticals is often more attractive to organised criminals than, for example, drug trafficking, given that it is a low-risk and high-value activity. The high profit margins associated with illicit trade are used to fund other criminal activities – a fact not widely understood by the UK public.
The true scale of illicit trade in the UK is hard to determine, but not impossible to measure. On Tap is the culmination of a 12-month study on illicit trade conducted in three regions of the UK: the northwest, east and southwest of England. It provides the first in-depth investigation of the intersection of organised crime and illicit trade in tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceuticals in the UK, and suggests a number of steps the government and other actors should take to combat the problem.
Aims and objectives
The government does not know the true scale of illicit trade in the UK. It is a largely invisible industry, with the activities of organised crime groups (OCGs) in this sphere enabled by the widespread social acceptability of consuming counterfeit and contraband products.
On Tap sought to examine the role of organised crime in illicit trade of goods and services in the UK, with a focus on tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceuticals. The core objectives were to:
- Understand the scale and nature of the illicit trade of goods and services in the UK
- Examine the role of organised crime in the illicit trade in the UK
- Review the response to illicit trade in the UK by relevant government departments and agencies
The 12-month study involved a comprehensive literature review; semi-structured interviews with 100 individuals from the public sector, private sector and academia; fieldwork in the northwest, southwest and east of England; and a series of workshops to validate key findings. One major trend identified early in the research was the growth in the number of Eastern European OCGs in the UK. Fieldwork in Poland was thus also undertaken to solicit views from law enforcement and customs on illicit trade.