Black market under attack
The Exchequer loses €861m per year to black market activity, according to a new report by Retail Ireland, which highlights numerous areas where tax revenue is being lost through fraud and under-the-counter activities
Retailers have been struggling through this recession as best they can. The industry accounts for 14.5 per cent of total employment, and the sector is a useful benchmark of economic activity, with sales having fallen by 30 per cent since the beginning of the recession.
However, the industry is fighting back; a report launched on Monday seeks to convince Government that more precious resources must be put into fighting and deterring the type of crime that costs retailers – and the public – money.
Retail Ireland is especially focused on counterfeit products such as cigarettes, drugs and branded clothing, all of which are being bought ‘under the counter’ at markets or online for prices well below the real retail value. The group is recommending a series of measures to combat the loss to the Exchequer to counterfeit medicines, counterfeit tobacco and alcohol.
Part of their recommendations include reducing State benefits and concessions to businesses found guilty of trading counterfeited or smuggled goods; introducing an award of up to €10,000 to whistleblowers who provide information that results in convictions – protected under the Protected Disclosure in the Public Interest Bill 2012.
While news reports regularly focus on the seizures of alcohol and tobacco, the issue of counterfeit medicines is also something that the report touches upon as necessary to counter-act. The report recommends that an industry-driven awareness campaign be undertaken to point out the “severity of the risks involved in consuming prescription only medicines without a prescription.
“If you buy medicines from the internet you have no way of knowing whether the medicines are counterfeit or genuine,” says Jim Curran, Director of Communications and Strategy at the Irish Pharmaceutical Union.
“If it’s a fake medicine, you have no idea what it really contains and are putting your health at risk by taking these medicines. It is vital that patients have the opportunity to speak to a community pharmacist when receiving their medication.”
The IPU are currently waiting for the Falsified Medicines Directive to be transposed into national legislation by January 2013. The directive includes a range of measures aimed at preventing or counterfeit medicines entering the supply chain and reaching the hands of patients.
However, closer to the ground here in Cork, the issue of counterfeit medicines is not as prevalent.
“There doesn’t seem to be a huge issue with black market medicines, as compared to Europe,” says Eddie Irwin of Cork pharmacy chain, Irwin’s Pharmacy.
“People will buy the cheaper medicines in Spain and Europe for themselves, not for distribution. The market is highly regulated; there is no loosening in the supply chain. Drugs are very specific to people as opposed to tobacco and alcohol – it’s not easy to pass on a drug to someone.”
Mr Irwin highlighted the stringent Product Authorisation codes in operation the Republic, which restricts pharmacies from importing medicines from other country countries, including Northern Ireland, who operate under a Product Licence key.
However, Mr Irwin did urge caution for people who pick up cheaper alternatives overseas, such as inhalers.
“What we are seeing is that people are picking up items far cheaper than here, but more than likely is a sophisticated copy,” says Mr Irwin.
“The problem there is that it may not effectively administer the medication – so while it’s not doing harm, it’s still not doing what it’s supposed to do so you are not getting the full benefits.”
To read the report in full, visit www.ibec.ie.