After pressure from the mayor of La Línea, border shop owners and the licensed ‘estanco’ tobacconists the Guardia Civil and National Police have started a crack down on contraband tobacco sales in the town.
This week the Guardia Civil and the Customs service have inspected the various street kiosks in La Línea to determine whether they are selling illicit cigarettes. The campaign is being extended to other premises but as of yet it is not known whether any closure orders have been issued.
The National Police have also set up road blocks in various parts of La Línea to search vehicles to see if they are carrying smuggled cigarettes from Gibraltar.
The Asociación de Estanqueros de Cádiz has long been angry that its members not only in La Línea but in the wider Campo de Gibraltar and beyond are losing out to under-the-counter cigarette sales. Obviously international cigarettes smuggled across the border are sold for far less than the “estancos” who have their prices controlled by law with tax paid. They have labelled what goes on at the border with people openly strolling through customs with black bags containing a carton of cigarettes as “scandalous”.
Since the mayor of La Línea, Alejandro Sánchez, held a meeting with the local security committee including the Guardia Civil, National and local police chiefs there has been a toughening up of the procedures at the border. Now anybody passing through with a carton of cigarettes is sent to a special desk to have their details registered on the customs computer.
The association representing the “estancos” recently had a letter published in the press highlighting the problems its members face due to the trafficking across the Gibraltar border. It says the letter was studied by the Comité Consultivo del Comisionado del Tabaco which includes the ministries of the interior, exterior, tax, health along with the manufacturers and distributors of cigarettes.
Of course some of the international brands of cigarettes that are sold below the counter are genuine packets smuggled across the border from Gibraltar. However criminals being criminals gangs are also introducing cigarettes that look as if they are in authentic packets but which are in fact fake – so the “estancos” are being hit by a double whammy.
The accusation is this fake tobacco is also brought across the border. If it is then it would be of major concern to the Gibraltar Government and the RGP as it would mean the packets were being manufactured on the Rock or smuggled in. I asked my man in the pinstripe suit who said as far as he was aware, no cigarettes are manufactured in Gibraltar. “I doubt very much there would exist a clandestine cigarette factory in such a small place. Neither am I aware of any cigarettes being smuggled in.” More likely the illicit cigarettes are being brought in to Spain by launch from Morocco but it would be in Gibraltar’s best interests to investigate these claims.
On Wednesday the Guardia Civil announced it had seized 559 cartons of cigarettes in La Línea. A Spanish national was spotted carrying various plastic bags which officers suspected contained tobacco. On searching the bags 160 packets of Fortuna, 239 of Pall Mall, 60 of American Legend, 50 Chesterfield, 20 Winston and 30 of Winston Classic were found. So far this year the Guardia Civil says it has seized 18,538 packets of various international brands.