Martin Krby Column; No Smoke Without Tax, No Stopping, and Rent-a-Weep
IT'S ALL GOING UP IN SMOKE
Passing through King's Walk last week, I was accosted by a bloke handing out leaflets and presuming it was somebody either trying to sell me something or at least, badger me into signing a direct debit for some charity or other, I grabbed his leaflet and moved on. Later, when I looked at the said leaflet, I discovered it was all about getting to grips with illegal tobacco.
Despite being a non-smoker, I don't have any real problem with anyone lighting-up. It's their choice and if they all gave up, the tax they pay would no doubt be added on to something else.
Still, I was very surprised by the statistics quoted on the 'stop illegal tobacco' leaflet. I've always known that a certain amount of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco were smuggled into the UK by 'entrepreneurs', but I was shocked by the number of local shopkeepers who are apparently willing to risk flogging the stuff. Of course, there is big money to be made if you can stay ahead of the game but the penalties are quite severe.
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In 2011, Trading Standards officers seized 8,000 cigarettes and over seven kilos of hand-rolling tobacco from shops in Gloucester and later the same year, illegal smokes worth 75 grand were found in one Gloucester business. In 2012, another 1039 illegal packets of cigs and 683 illegal packs of hand-rolling tobacco were found in Gloucestershire shops.
The guilty can be fined as much as £5,000 and get banged-up for a possible three year stretch, which shows just how lucrative the enterprise must be for people to still be willing to chance it.
However, it's all very well for the authorities to try to stamp out this trade, but the government isn't making the task any easier. Given that at least 77% of the pack price goes directly to the chancellor, with 20 Benson Gold fetching £7.97 at your local Tesco, that's quite a windfall for Mr Osborne. In Spain, the same fags would cost about £3.47.
The same problem applies to smuggled booze. While governments get more and more greedy, the smugglers will just grow wealthier.
CROSSING THE LINE
I don't know if you've had the same experience, but I've seen a marked increase in the number of drivers who simply don't bother to stop for pedestrians to use designated crossings. I'm talking about the old fashioned black and white striped crossings here – not just a gap between bollards.
According to rule number 195 of the Highway Code, drivers should 'look out for pedestrians waiting to cross and be ready to slow down or stop to let them cross, and they MUST give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a crossing'.
Try telling that to the average car driver these days. If you are lucky enough to have a car approaching from one side of the road stop for you, as you cross, a vehicle coming from the opposite direction will shoot through. Using the crossing outside
The Knoll Nursing Home on Stroud Road is a scary experience for the elderly or less-nimble.
Some drivers just have no intention of stopping; some don't see you because they are too busy with their mobile phones and the ones with Eastern European registrations may well be unaware that they are supposed to stop. At the speed some motorists are coming over the hill at this particular crossing, it's a miracle somebody isn't killed every week.
Still with the subject of death, I see that grieving relatives can now bump up the number of mourners at a funeral by hiring 'professional sobbers'. The going rate is £45 for a two-hour ceremony - and as well as attending the funeral they will weep and talk to friends of the deceased. The trend started in areas such as the Middle East and China, but has become increasingly popular in the UK.
Personally, I wouldn't be seen dead with them!