Font Size: A A A


Black market trade in cigs

Millions of illegal cigarettes filled with dead flies, human excrement and abnormally high levels of cancer-causing chemicals are being taken off the streets by councils according to the Local Government Association (LGA). It said efforts to reduce smoking and improve health are being hampered by the illicit trade, which also costs the UK economy around £3 billion a year in unpaid duty.

Recent councils hauls have seen sniffer dogs deployed in Birmingham to trace bootlegged tobacco. Hundreds of thousands of illegal cigarettes have been seized in Wolverhampton, Bristol and Nottingham while six London councils have teamed up to take on the illegal trade in south London. Trading standards officers have found fake cigarettes stashed under floorboards, in toilet cisterns, inside hoovers and behind sweets on shelves.

Some have contained absestos, mould, dust, dead flies, rat droppings and human excrement. Many also contain much higher levels of toxic ingredients such as tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide, lead, cadminium and arsenic than genuine brand-name cigarettes. Fake cigarettes also pose a greater fire risk 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 left burning in an ashtray, are dropped or if the smoker falls asleep.

Joanna Spicer, Vice-Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Counterfeit tobacco being sold cheaply through the black market by rogue traders is hampering council efforts to reduce smoking. This illicit trade is also funding organised criminal gangs, damaging the livelihoods of honest businesses and costing taxpayers billions of pounds a year. People buying cheap cigarettes might think they are getting a great deal, but the truth is that they’re not. If they knew what they might contain, the might think twice about buying them.

“Council prosecutions should serve as a strong warning to any shopkeeper thinking of stocking their shelves with illegal tobacco and not thinking twice about selling them cheaply to children and others.”

Case studies

40 per cent of smokers in Southwark, Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth and Lewisham councils admitted to buying fake cigarettes in a survey last year. The councils have formed a partnership to tackle the estimated 114 million illicit cigarettes with a street value of over £22 million sold each year in the area.

A two-day operation in Wolverhampton saw around 25,000 counterfeit and duty free cigarettes and 3 kg of illegal chewing tobacco was confiscated from some of the premises visited.

Sniffer dogs were used by Birmingham City Council in raids on 12 premises across the city. Illegal cigarettes worth more than £7,000 were seized as a result.

Bristol City Council seized 53,000 cigarettes and 5 kilograms of tobacco as part of an ongoing investigation into the supply of counterfeit goods across north Somerset.

A taskforce to combat the problem of counterfeit cigarettes has been set up by Nottinghamshire County Council. It is investing £91,000 of its public health funding to fund two trading standards officers to investigate the trade. The team’s first operation saw them raid nine shops and two houses across the county seizing 90,000 illegal cigarettes and 20 kilograms of illegal tobacco with an estimated street value of £40,000.


Related News