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Illegal tobacco sellers use slang to beat Facebook ban

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Illegal tobacco sellers use slang to beat Facebook ban

Gabriel Pogrund

The Sunday Times

Illegal tobacco sales cost the British taxpayer £2.5bn a year
Illegal tobacco sales cost the British taxpayer £2.5bn a year

Sellers of unlicensed tobacco on Facebook’s Marketplace app are sidestepping the social media giant’s safeguards by misspelling brand names, using foreign languages and communicating in slang.

A Sunday Times investigation found hundreds of results for illicit tobacco on Facebook using search terms deliberately designed to circumvent the rules.

Searching for key words in foreign languages such as Polish, Romanian and Russian was also found to deliver dozens of results. Most included foreign cigarettes illegally smuggled into the UK for resale.

The illegal sale of tobacco costs the British taxpayer £2.5bn a year in unpaid duties. Campaign groups say that selling cigarettes at “pocket money” prices leads to child addiction.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, the tobacco awareness charity, said: “This is another example of Facebook saying one thing while doing another — looking the other way while making money out of illegal tobacco sales.”

Facebook: blames a ‘technical issue’
Facebook: blames a ‘technical issue’

Facebook had defended the presence of illegal items on Marketplace as a “technical issue” when it was launched more than a year ago. It said that it banned ecigarettes, smoking paraphernalia and all tobacco products. The findings of today’s investigation suggest that the sale of prohibited items is far more widespread than previously thought.

Some sellers use Facebook as a digital shopfront but sell cheap cigarettes directly to customers, while others conduct illicit transactions through the site.

In one instance a seller advertised 200 Dunhill Blue King Size cigarettes for £50. If bought legally the same quantity would cost £114.50.

In another instance a vendor advertised a 1kg bucket of rolling tobacco for £125. According to current HM Revenue & Customs rates on tobacco, tax on such a product would be £221.18.

In a statement Facebook said: “Our teams work around the clock to review content that is reported to us, and we also have systems in place that proactively analyse text, images, and other factors to identify potential violations when a listing is posted to Marketplace.”

It added: “We can confirm that the four products reported to us by the Sunday Times have been removed for violating our Tobacco Commerce Policy.”

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So using a foreign language is now evidence of criminal activity?  

I know that Britain (and the US) can be a bit myopic when it comes to recognising and appreciating that most of the world does not speak English -- shock, horror, say it ain't so!! -- but that is plainly ridiculous!  

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Prohibition did not work.

Prohibitive taxes breed crime.

Criminals make the money.

Therefore, there are criminals at BOTH ends of tobacco taxes.............

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  • 2 years later...

These groups pop up, last for a while, and disappear just as fast only to be replaced by another group the next hour, and more creative each time. It's the same in the Whiskey and Bourbon trading groups. They are like cockroaches.

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