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Case Studies

Counterfeit cigarette warning

Cheap, illegal cigarettes are rife in the market, says the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales. Criminals selling them on Facebook and rogue traders using sophisticated secret places to store them are undermining official efforts to reduce smoking, says the LGA. It is calling for courts to impose bigger fines.

Fake or counterfeit cigarettes are made to look like popular UK brands but typically have foreign health warnings and no picture health warnings, while non-duty paid, or bootlegged cigarettes, are UK brands usually brought into the country from abroad and sold illegally. Councils have used sniffer dogs to trace and remove such tobacco. In recent prosecutions illegal stashes of cigarettes have been found hidden in walls and floors of shops and secret panels in cupboards. Trading standards officers have found illegal hauls hidden in toilet cisterns, in boxes of sweets, behind extractor fans and ceiling lights.

Many fake cigarettes contain higher than legal levels of toxic ingredients such as tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide than genuine brand-name cigarettes – which are still harmful to health. Fake cigarettes also pose a greater fire risk, the authorities point out, as they do not include designs that ensure that a lit cigarette will self-extinguish if not actively smoked. This reduces the chances of them starting a fire if they are left burning in an ashtray, are dropped or if the smoker falls asleep.

Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “The sale of cheap, illegal tobacco by rogue traders in shops, private homes and through social media is funding organised criminal gangs and damaging legitimate traders, as well as making it easier for young people to get hooked on smoking, which undermines councils’ efforts to help people quit. No cigarette is good for you, but fake cigarettes contain even higher levels of cancer-causing toxins than standard cigarettes, so people should think twice about buying them.

“Counterfeit cigarettes also fail to extinguish themselves when left to burn, presenting a real danger to people. Bigger fines need to be imposed by the courts to deter the sale of illegal tobacco to help councils’ enforcement work against rogue traders, reduce crime in our communities and protect the health of children and young people.”

Consumers who are concerned about any tobacco product on sale can report to the Citizens Advice Consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06.


At the trade body the Association of Convenience Stores, ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Trading standards officers need more powers to stamp out the sale of illicit tobacco. If a small shop is found to be persistently selling non-duty paid cigarettes they should be stopped from trading and feel the full force of the law.”


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