Tobacco seizures down by 75% as smugglers use ‘sophisticated concealments’

Revenue says smugglers using ‘inventive and complex methods’ to bring in cigarettes

Illegal tobacco seizures collapsed by more than three-quarters in 2019 as smugglers copied sophisticated techniques from the drugs trade in an effort to avoid detection, new figures show.

Just €10.5 million in cigarettes and other tobacco products were seized by Revenue last year, compared to some €42.2 million in 2018.

While the 2018 figures were unusually high due to the discovery of Ireland’s first counterfeit cigarette factory in March, the 2019 figure is still less than half the value of tobacco products seized during 2017 and 2016.

The 2019 figure is contained in “headline” results for last year, published by Revenue in January.


A spokesman for the tax authority said smugglers are using “increasingly inventive and complex smuggling methods and concealment techniques”.

Revenue said it had noted a “shift away from the large-scale smuggling of tobacco products in shipping containers to smaller amounts of tobacco products being smuggled in sophisticated concealments traditionally associated with drug smuggling”.

A shipping container can hold between seven and eight million cigarettes, Revenue said.

“Having regard to the fact that smaller amounts of tobacco products are being smuggled, this shift invariably resulted in a reduction in the number of cigarettes and tobacco produces seized as a result of detections at ports.”

The shift away from large-scale consignments has been evidenced by increasingly ingenious methods of concealment.

For example, customs agents made two seizures during 2019 where cigarettes were concealed in hollowed out wooden planks.

A Revenue spokesman said it is “alert to the resourcefulness of those involved in criminality in the supply of illicit tobacco products and responded effectively to this change in concealment methods”.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times