Smoking is seriously addictive and is the single greatest cause of preventable illness and avoidable death in the UK. Long-term use will kill one in two of its users. Tobacco can be used in cigarettes, hand rolled tobacco, cigars, pipes, shisha and smokeless tobacco. All tobacco, regardless of where it is bought, contains thousands of chemicals, many of which cause cancer, respiratory disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease, stroke, low birth weight and increased risk of still birth.
Selling illegal tobacco is not a victimless crime. Most smokers want to quit. The availability of cheap illegal tobacco undermines the work of Public Health teams’ smoking cessation clinics and can even encourage people to smoke more.
The tobacco industry always needs to recruit new smokers to keep their business sustainable. It is uncommon that an adult will suddenly decide to start smoking. Most smokers are addicted before the age of 18; the age at which you can legally purchase tobacco in the UK. Illegal tobacco, sold at pocket money prices, makes it more affordable for children and young people to start smoking, leading to years of addiction to tobacco with all the negative health consequences. Illegal tobacco sellers are unlikely to ask for proof of age or care if they are selling to children. As the sellers are also likely to be trading in other illicit products, such as alcohol, fake branded goods and drugs, it also exposes children to a wider range of illicit activity underpinned by organised crime.
Illegal tobacco falls into one of these three categories:
Counterfeit – This tobacco claims to be an established, well-known brand. But it’s not. It’s fake.
Non-duty paid – Legitimate tobacco purchased abroad cheaply, brought back to the UK, and sold at a fraction of the UK retail cost.
Other unknown brands – Made for the illegal market, these brands our unknown and unregulated.
If tobacco is cheap, chances are it is illegal.
Get help to stop smoking from the NHS.
Image Courtesy of ASH – Action on Smoking and Health
All genuine tobacco products sold in the UK must now be sold in standardised (olive coloured) packaging.
What’s the real cost?
Tax – Tobacco is taxed heavily as a deterrent, to try and persuade people to stop smoking. The unpaid duty on these products was estimated at £2.5 billion in 2017, this money should go towards funding hospitals, schools and other services. The livelihoods of your local shopkeepers are threatened too – they cannot compete with illegal tobacco sellers on price and it greatly undermines attempts to quit.
Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) – Illegal tobacco is often used by OCGs to raise funds for their criminal activity – such as human trafficking and terrorism. Trading Standards officers have also reported the sale and use of illegal tobacco by individuals involved with child sexual exploitation. These are not the things you would want in your local community?
Other Criminality – It is often the case that when officers deal with individuals who sell illegal tobacco, they also discover involvement with other criminal activity such as drugs, stolen items, the sale of other counterfeit goods, and abuse of the benefits system. Profits made from the sale of illegal tobacco are then fed back into the criminal activities. All these issues will have a negative impact on your local neighbourhood.
If you know of someone selling illegal tobacco, report it confidentially via our on line Report it service. This will be used to help build an intelligence picture and help Trading Standards and other enforcement partners to fight crime and tackle the illegal supply of tobacco.