Smokefree North West has recently seen a surge in tobacco barons in Russia and China who are helping recruit a new generation of smokers through cheap illicit imports and handrolled tobacco. The OK packets either carry no health warnings at all, or written in Ukrainian, Russian, Chinese or Danish.
In the last six months more than 17 million cheap cigarettes and nearly 2,000kg of other tobacco products have been seized by police, HMRC and trading standards in the North West alone.
More than half of these were found in a haul of 10 million smuggled cigarettes in an Ellesmere Port warehouse in November, which had a duty value of £1.8 million.
Trading Standards say brands like Jin Ling, which is manufactured exclusively to be smuggled are now what they most often find in raids on local ‘fag’ or ‘tab’ houses, pubs or shops.
Many of these brands are mass-manufactured in overseas factories purely for the black market however, they lack the graphic warnings about diseases that have helped motivate many smokers to quit smoking and stop young people from starting to smoke.
As part of a crackdown on illicit cigarettes, the ‘’Get Some Answers’’ advertising campaign has been relaunched to urge residents to phone Crimestoppers if illegal tobacco is being sold near them.
Andrea Crossfield, director of Smokefree North West said: “The graphic health warnings on tobacco have shown how horrific and disfiguring many smoking-related diseases like lung cancer and mouth cancer are.
“All tobacco is deadly, with half of long term users dying of a smoking related disease, so it’s a real worry that a teenager in the North West can buy a packet of illegal cigarettes and get no health warning at all.
“The sellers have no morals. They will even sell single cigarettes to children, and every parent should be concerned if illegal tobacco traders are operating in their area.”
Peter Astley, of Trading Standards North West, said: “If tobacco’s on sale very cheap it’s illegal, and this isn’t a victimless crime. Buyers might think they’re getting a bargain but it’s not a good deal because it’s an evil trade with links to a lot of other criminal activity such as other forms of counterfeiting, drug dealing and even people trafficking.”
HM Revenue and Customs estimate that around 11 per cent of cigarettes and 49 per cent of handrolled tobacco is now illegal.