ALMOST 36 million illegal cigarettes were seized in Louth from April to September last year, according to figures compiled by the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee (ITMAC).
The six month period saw a boom in the illegal cigarette trade in the North East with 10 million illegal cigarettes seized in Armagh by customs officials. The 45 million cigarettes seized in Louth and Armagh had a value of e15.2m
This was the highest seizure in the country with 31.5 million seized in Dublin and 25 million seized in Cork. During the same period there were four prosecutions in Louth related to the illegal cigarettes trade, two for illegal selling and tow for illegal smuggling of cigarettes.
"There has been a lot of activity in this area over the past year including seizures and prosecutions with the Customs being extremely active in trying to stop the influx of illegal cigarettes into the area," said a spokesperson for ITMAC.
"While Customs and Gardai are working to put a stop to the illegal cigarette trade in the area, the problem will not go away until serious deterrents are placed on criminals for selling and smuggling illegal tobacco.
"The latest figures from the Revenue Commissioners show that there was actually a decrease in the fines that were handed out to those caught selling illegal cigarettes in 2010."
The spokesperson addded: "In the second quarter of the year, from April to June, the average fine for someone caught selling illegal cigarettes was e3,130, but this decreased to e2,820 in the third quarter, from July to September.
"These criminals are arrested in the morning and are back out on the streets selling in the afternoon. A criminal gang can make a profit of e1 million on one container of illegal cigarettes so these fines mean nothing to them.
In October 2009 Irish customs seized the largest haul of illegal cigarettes in the history of the EU at Greenore Port. The 120 million cigarettes seized would have represented a loss to the Irish exchequer e40million.
Meanwhile, eight million cigarettes smuggled into the country from China were seized by customs officers and gardai on the M1 near Drogheda on Wednesday, January 12.
The haul, worth e3.4m, was discovered in a container attached to a truck. The unstamped contraband Benson & Hedges cigarettes had arrived at Dublin Port in the 40ft container from China.
The Revenue's Customs Service said that if sold, the haul would have cost the exchequer nearly e3m. Two men, a 56-year-old and a 41-year-old were arrested in relation to the find.
The 56-year-old was later released without charge. A file is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Customs have urged anyone with information on the smuggling or ale of illegal cigarettes to call the confidential free phone number 1800-295-295.
l Cigarette seizure