Stubbing out illegal cigarettes and tobacco

 

Unregulated toxins, lost revenue, and proceeds being used to finance the activities of criminal gangs – just three reasons that Croydon Council’s trading standards (TS) team is urging people to boycott illegal cigarettes and tobacco.

Acting on reports of sales of contraband and counterfeit tobacco goods across the borough, TS officers are appealing for help from the public in tracking down and prosecuting traders in the potentially lethal products.

In the past year, the team has notched a major success in raiding a factory churning out hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of fake branded rolling tobacco. Approximately 4,600 50g packets of fake Golden Virginia Hand Rolling Tobacco (pictured), with an approximate street value of £85,000, were found packed and ready for delivery.

In only one month, the criminal gang responsible had produced more than 13,000 packets with a street value in the region of £250,000. It is estimated there was sufficient material on site to make a further £250,000-worth of fakes.

Smuggling and large-scale counterfeiting operations cost more than £2bn in lost revenue each year. They are dominated by internationally organised criminal groups that are often involved in other crimes, such as drug smuggling and people trafficking.

And, without the proper checks and controls in place, illegally produced tobacco has been found to contain dangerous levels of cadmium, lead and tar, as well as human faeces, dead flies and mould.

National health initiatives have been responsible for a drop in the number of people smoking, and the harm it causes. High duty rates, making tobacco less affordable, have also helped reduce smoking prevalence in the UK from 26% of adults to 19% over the past 15 years. However, counterfeiting and smuggling undermine this good work, offering a cheaper alternative, for those who might otherwise be deterred by cost, to continue their habit.

Illegal packets of cigarettes will typically cost between £3 and £5, and will be produced from concealed areas in shops. This is detrimental to the majority of retailers who sell genuine products at the normal selling price, resulting in a loss of custom, and jeopardising their livelihoods.

Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice

“Quite apart from the harm smokers of illegal cigarettes are probably doing themselves, what also has to be borne in mind is the fact that, by buying them, the smoker is helping to finance genuine evils, in the shape of drug smuggling, people trafficking and modern slavery.

“People are often unaware that that’s where their money’s going.

“Consumers should be very cautious and avoid the temptation to save money by purchasing illegal cigarettes. I’d also ask that anybody who’s offered them, or who knows somewhere that’s selling them, reports the matter. Successful convictions will send the message that we’re on the look-out for them and that it simply doesn’t pay to offer illicit tobacco goods for sale.”

Anybody with information on shops or individuals selling cheap cigarettes or tobacco is asked to report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 040506 or email trading.standards@croydon.gov.uk

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