Night grocery stores, hookah bars, barbers… towards a decree to control their activity and fight against cigarette trafficking ?

Night grocery stores, hookah bars, barbers… towards a decree to control their activity and fight against cigarette trafficking ?

Les représentants de la Chambre syndicale des tabacs du Gard, Vincent Garcia et Corinne Lafare, ont rencontré les députés Patrick Vignal et Philippe Berta. Midi Libre – MiKAEL ANISSET

Cigarette trafficking represents a tax loss estimated at 7 billion euros for the French state, while tobacconists denounce an injustice in the face of unfair and underground competition. In Nîmes, deputies and unions sat around the table.

"Not far from my business, there is a grocery store. It has already been closed three or four times for illegal tobacco sales. Each time, it reopens and it starts again." The situation depicted Vincent Garcia, secretary of the Gard tobacco union chamber, is not a case isolated.

In France, only tobacconists are authorized to sell tobacco. But behind the scenes, smuggling and counterfeiting rage. According to a KPMG report for Philip Morris France, dated June 2023, on the "Consumption of illicit cigarettes in the EU, the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, Moldova and Ukraine" , the consumption of cigarettes outside the legal network of French tobacconists has increased by more than 15% in six years, going from 24.6% in 2017 to 39.7% in 2024. This, then that, at the same time, legal tobacco sales fell by 5%.

Le Gard above the national average on parallel tobacco sales

In Gard, illegal sales are estimated at 46%, well above the national average. The difference in tobacco prices in border countries is obviously raised by the tobacconists' union of Gard : "When at 200 km, you have packs of cigarettes at 5.50 € while they are sold for 12.50 € At home, we understand well that consumers fill up with gasoline and make a return trip, plague Vincent Garcia. Also targeting the new European regulations which raised the import thresholds for an individual in the European Union to four cartridges of the same brand. But, facing him, the deputies from Hérault and Gard Patrick Vignal and Philippe Berta see the good side of this decree: "This will make it easier for us to carry out controls and help us to strengthen them, pleads Patrick Vignal.As soon as the cartridges are of different brands, we can consider that we will be on a commercial vocation of the purchase."

A procedure identical to drug trafficking

"A decree is much easier to put in place than a law. If everything progresses as we want, this could be applicable by next year." For deputies Vignal and Berta,  after the findings, it is now time for action. The mission, which could begin before the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, will concern the ministries of Justice, the Interior, the Economy and the budget. &amp ;quot;I must also speak very soon with Philippe Coy, president of the national confederation of tobacconists",explains Patrick Vignal. Who wants to move quickly in the face of a galloping reality: "Counterfeiting (a pack of cigarettes is sold between 3 and 5 € in illicit sales channels), almost non-existent in 2017 ( 0.2%), represented, in 2022, 15.4% of total cigarette consumption in France, or 400 million packets of counterfeit cigarettes consumed by the equivalent of 2 million smokers, which makes it without doubt the most counterfeited consumer product. These figures place France on the first step of the podium in Europe, representing alone 62% of counterfeiting within the EU’, thus specifies the report led by Philip Morris. A public health issue faced with poor quality tobacco, but not only that: according to this same report, the criminal groups at the head of these networks operate with the same modus operandi as for drug trafficking, establishing clandestine production units on the territory.

And if deputies and representatives of the chamber of tobacco unions of Gard were gathered this week on rue Racine in Nîmes, it’s to discuss the will of the members of the’ National Assembly to issue a decree to further sanction fraudsters and better regulate certain businesses: " Today, a night grocery store which is condemned for illegal sale of tobacco will be subject to one to three months of administrative closure. We need to toughen our tone: I hope that, from the first offense and depending on the quantities seized, the closure of the business will be for a minimum of six months and up to one year." But MP Vignal does not want to stop there: "We must also focus on the co-responsibility of managers: that the  rsquo;all natural persons linked to the case are prohibited from opening anything else during the closure period."

Night grocery stores, shisha bars, barbers in the crosshairs

Because, behind this resale of cigarettes which might seem relatively innocuous, trafficking and money laundering are rarely far away. And barber shops, night grocery stores and even nail salons are particularly in the crosshairs of the authorities. Just like hookah bars, where "only 5 % of the tobacco consumed is French", assures MP Vignal. Businesses whose opening also requires almost no qualifications: "This must change. Why should a hairdresser have a diploma to have a salon when a barber doesn't need one? There is a commercial injustice. We must structure, through federations, these night grocery stores, these shisha bars or these barbers, in order to better be able to supervise them and control their activity."

A tax loss estimated at 7 billion euros

A framework whose usefulness would be multiple: with tobacco trafficking, the State's shortfall is thus estimated at 7 billion d’ euros…"About 12.50 €, 10 € are collected by the State: with the money that is taken from you, we owe it to you to remedy this social injustice created by these parallel networks", says the chosen one in the direction of the tobacconists. Who can only agree: "Me, if I am controlled and it is discovered that I am cheating with tobacco, I lose my right to exercise, I am not just risking a closure", breathes Corinne Lafare, trader in Uzès. These challenges are all the more important as the sale of tobacco still represents nearly "70% of our turnover. Our profession has evolved and diversified. We adapt, we agree with all public health policies, the ban on sales to minors. But we cannot fight against unfair competition, conclude Corinne Lafare and Vincent Garcia. Who are now awaiting strong responses from the State.

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