Imperial Tobacco, the biggest cigarette seller in Britain, has denied that it is reluctant to sign up to new anti smuggling proposals drawn up by customs and excise to combat contraband cigarette sales. The maker of the Regal and Superking brands that dominate the smuggled market in the UK yesterday insisted its negotiations with government officials were ongoing. “Imperial has a long history of co-operation with customs in efforts to combat tobacco smuggling,” a spokeswoman said. Her comments came after rival Gallaher, which makes Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut cigarettes for the British market, announced that it had signed a co-operation agreement with customs and excise designed to share intelligence in the battle against tobacco smuggling. Jeff Jeffery of Gallaher said that “Cigarette smuggling undermines the legitimate market for our products and is of great concern to Gallaher.” Customs said the Gallaher agreement was “Recognition that, in their case, a clear commitment to [tackling smuggling] exists.” According to customs and excise figures, almost fifty percent of contraband cigarettes seized in the UK in 2000/1 were Regal, Superking, or Superking Blue, all Imperial brands. By contrast, customs estimates that Regal and Superkings account for about 10% of the legitimate cigarette sales in the UK. Asked if Imperial profits in the UK would be hit if customs managed to curb smuggling, a spokeswoman for the company said: “We still believe in a regulated market. The damage that smuggling does to the industry worldwide needs to be addressed.” Referring to the Gallaher agreement, she added: "We would have no problem in agreeing to a similar memorandum of understanding in the future as this reflects ongoing commitment to assisting customs in their anti-smuggling efforts, and is also in line with our current trading practice."
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