People involved in illegal tobacco can face serious penalties. The consequences for selling illegal tobacco could include the following:

  • You could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
  • Have your illegal goods and the vehicle used for the transportation of these goods seized
  • Receive a fine of any amount
  • Have any proceeds of the crime seized. This can be the monetary proceeds or the confiscation of high value assets, such as jewellery, cars and property
  • Lose your job due to a criminal record

Know your limits

Clearly it's not illegal to go abroad and buy cheap cigarettes for friends and family, as long as the amount is within custom guidelines and no money changes hands.

However bringing back cheap cigarettes or tobacco from abroad and selling them on is breaking the law. If you're coming back to the UK from an EU country then this is what you can bring home with you.

There are no limits on the amount of duty / tax paid tobacco goods you can bring into the UK from the European Union (EU), as long as they are for your own use, not for commercial gain and are transported by you personally:

However, you are likely to be asked questions at the UK frontier if you have more than the following:

  • 200 cigarettes
  • 400 cigarillos
  • 200 cigars
  • 3kg of tobacco

If you're coming back from a country outside the EU then you are allowed to bring the following back:

  • 200 cigarettes
  • 100 cigarillos
  • 50 cigars
  • 250g of tobacco

Don't get caught out and potentially face a fine or even worse, stick within the limits and never sell on what you bring back.


Serious consequences lie in wait for retailers who attempt to boost their takings by selling cigarettes and/or tobacco illegally.

Any shopkeeper who sells tobacco without an authentic UK duty paid mark can lose their National Lottery 'lotto' terminal, be fined up to £5,000, have their vehicle seized if used to transport illegal goods and be prevented from selling any tobacco products for up to six months. HMRC also have the power to formally object to the renewal of your alcohol license.

Be an honest retailer

You must display a statutory notice at point of sale or face a fine of up to £1,000 Selling illegal tobacco contravenes the Tobacco Product Duties Act Selling counterfeit tobacco also contravenes the Trade Marks Act If you sell tobacco without the fiscal mark you face a fine of up to £5,000 Tobacco purchased on the internet must have UK duty paid BEFORE despatch

It is illegal to sell loose cigarettes. Those caught could be fined up to £1,000
Selling tobacco products to under 18's is illegal with fines of up to £2,500Repeat offenders risk fines of up to £20,000

It is also the retailer's responsibility to ensure employees aren't using the premises to make private, illegal tobacco sales as both employees and employers will face criminal prosecution and heavy fines.

Employers and employees

Just because your place of work isn't a place of tobacco sale doesn't mean that there aren't consequences if it's found that you allow it to be sold on your premises.

If you're found guilty of letting the sale of illegal tobacco happen on your premises then you could face a criminal record and face severe fines.

The employee who is committing the offence, whether buying or selling will face similar repercussions, including dismissal.

More information

To make absolutely certain you comply with the law and if you need more information, or would like to talk about how Surrey Trading Standards can help your business meet all the requirements, please contact:

Tel: 01372 371700
Fax: 01372 371704
For Business Advice: