Travellers returning from EC countries can be challenged by Customs Officers to justify that the alcohol and tobacco they have bought is for their own personal use.

Paymaster General Dawn Primarolo said today at Destinations travel show:
“If you are challenged by Customs and Excise you will need to satisfy them that the alcohol and tobacco you have is for your own use. You are not allowed to sell these products in any way without paying UK excise duty, or make purchases on behalf of people who are not travelling.
“If you cannot satisfy Customs Officers that the goods are for your own use, they will be seized, and you may face the wide range of sanctions employed to deter the criminals selling illegal cigarettes, handrolling tobacco and alcohol.
“Customs can also seize vehicles used for smuggling, and once a conviction is obtained the Department will seek the revocation of driving and alcohol licenses and may well seek a compensation order to off set the tax that has been stolen. This is in addition to the fact that most criminals convicted of these offences will receive a prison sentence – the maximum sentence is seven years.”
“The reason for this tough action is simple. This is not a victimless crime, honest shopkeepers are being undercut by these criminals. Currently we are losing about 2.5 billion pounds in tobacco taxes, and 215 million pounds in alcohol taxes. This money could substantially increase funding to our schools and hospitals.
“Customers of these criminals don’t always know what they are buying. Last year Customs seized two large loads of Methylated Spirits packaged as Whiskey and Vodka. They are currently seizing large shipments of counterfeit UK cigarettes – usually with higher tar levels than local brands. If the price is too good to be true it is time for the buyer to beware.”

Notes to Editors

These are the amounts of alcohol and tobacco purchased in the European Union (EU) which are regarded as reasonable for personal use. Eight hundred cigarettes, 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars, 1kg of smoking tobacco, 10 litres of spirits, 20 litres of fortified wine, 90 litres of wine (this includes not more than 60 litres of sparkling wine) 110 litres of beer.

The European Union countries are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Irish Republic, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain (not the Canary Islands) Sweden, United Kingdom (but not the Channel Islands).

You do not have to pay any UK tax or duty on goods you have bought in other EU countries for your own use, and you do not have to declare these goods.

Duty free sales to and from EU destinations ended last year. However Duty free sales are still available for journeys to and from countries outside of the EU. If you exceed the duty free allowances you should declare the goods to Customs in the red channel – or the phone provided at the red point. If you do not declare items you should pay duty on you are breaking the law and Customs may prosecute you or seize the goods.

The duty free allowances are:
– 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco;
– 2 litres of still table wine;
– 1 litre of spirits or liqueurs with alcohol over 22% by volume, or 2 litres of fortified wine, sparkling wine or other liqueurs;
– 60 millilitres of perfume and 250 millilitres of toilet water;
– 145 pounds worth of all other goods including gifts and souvenirs.

For further information travellers should consult our short leaflet, “A Guide For Travellers!” available from Customs and Excise advice centres listed under Customs and Excise in the telephone book, or from our website

If you have any information about the smuggling or sale of illegal alcohol or tobacco please phone us on our 24 hour confidential hotline – 0800 59 5000.

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