More than a quarter of smokers in Plymouth buy illegal tobacco, according to new figures. Almost 200,000 people in the South West use illegal tobacco and 28 per cent of Plymouth smokers buy it, a report reveals. It states around 147 million packets of illegal Marlboro cigarettes are smuggled into the region every year.
The findings have been released today as a campaign is launched to cut smoking death rates and clear the streets of the crime.
It aims to track down and prosecute dealers, with sentences of up to seven years in prison.
Smokefree South West, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and Trading Standards have joined forces for the South of England Tackling Illegal Tobacco for Better Health. Dr David Phillips, of Smokefree South West, said the trade in illegal tobacco has serious consequences for health, crime and communities.
“Smoking remains one of the biggest causes of health inequalities in the region,” he said.
“Illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to smoke and targets poor and disadvantaged communities.
“The presence of illegal tobacco, which is considerably cheaper than legal tobacco, discourages smokers from quitting and encourages them to smoke more.
“With links to low-level and large-scale organised crime, nationally and internationally, it also goes hand in hand with drugs and alcohol, child exploitation and money laundering.”
The survey also revealed that in Plymouth, of those smokers surveyed, over a third (38 per cent) agreed that illegal tobacco made it possible for them to smoke when they could not otherwise afford to.
The most common source of illegal tobacco is from a ‘friend’ or someone they know (65 per cent). The total street value of illegal tobacco in the South West is estimated at over £104 million per annum, equivalent to a retail value of £216 million.
A total of 2,092 interviews were conducted across the South West region for the survey.
HMRC has had a national strategy in place to tackle tobacco smuggling since 2000. In that time it has seized more than 20 billion cheap cigarettes, with a value of around £4.5 billion in legitimate lost sales, and seized over 2,700 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco. More than 3,300 criminals have been successfully prosecuted and more than £48 million in confiscation orders secured to recover the proceeds of crime.
Stuart Crookshank, HM Revenue & Customs assistant director of specialist investigations, said: “The illegal tobacco trade has a huge effect on our community. The criminals involved are not concerned who they sell to and often supply to children and young people. We have active and effective teams of officers operating across the region to stamp out this criminal activity and seek to prosecute those responsible.”
Paul Thomas, lead of Trading Standards and lead officer for tobacco control in the South West, added: “Adults need to realise that if they buy cheap illegal tobacco they are supporting a trade run by people who don’t care if their profits come from our children and young people or about the financial damage they are doing to reputable local businesses.”