Smokers call for action on illegal tobacco


Smokers are calling for action against the widespread availability of illegal tobacco in a report, published this week (4 January), that shows attitudes to unlawful sales continue to change.

While the message that all tobacco kills should remain clear, more than 50 per cent of the smokers surveyed in Hackney said that something should be done to stop cheap tobacco being sold.

In addition, 56 per cent of respondents said they agreed cheap tobacco made it easier for children to start smoking and 52 per cent agreed it made it harder for any smoker to give up. Hackney also had the highest percentage of smokers who were offered and accepted cheap tobacco in the past year at 60%.

The results of the joint survey - commissioned by Hackney Council and six other London boroughs’ trading standards and public health departments – come as many thousands of smokers strive to kick the habit this New Year.

Cllr Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor, Hackney Council
It is very disappointing that so many people are being offered cheap tobacco and are buying it illegally. We know that illegal cigarettes can make it easier for children to start smoking and this is something we are committed to addressing.

“Our trading standards officers recently seized a substantial amount of illegal tobacco from shops in Hackney. They will be carrying out more intelligence led visits to shops and other businesses to catch those who are illegally selling tobacco, in some cases to school children.
Cllr Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor, Hackney Council

Leon Livermore, Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) chief executive, said it was effectively a cry for help from would-be quitters whose efforts are being undermined by the illegal trade.

He said: “That smokers themselves are against the illegal trade shows just how far we have come in the fight against all tobacco products, which kill about 80,000 each year in England alone.

“Clearly illegal tobacco is now everyone’s concern and this survey shows that a majority of smokers want action taken against the unscrupulous tobacco sellers that often target them.

“Trading standards teams are working hard, alongside Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officials and police, to crack down on the illegal trade but continued public support is vital.”

Illegal tobacco products are made up of genuine but smuggled products as well as counterfeit and illegally manufactured tobacco products.

HMRC figures show the market share of illegal cigarettes has halved in a decade, falling from 21 per cent to 10 per cent.

Unlawful rolling tobacco sales have dropped too, from 62 per cent to 35 per cent during the same period, but combined sales still represent a £2.1 billion loss to UK taxpayers.

Meanwhile, CTSI’s national tobacco survey, published last month, has shown a 26 per cent increase in people reporting illegal tobacco sales to local councils.

In addition, the survey found that illegally manufactured cigarettes are unlikely to contain self-extinguishing properties, designed to prevent a dropped or discarded cigarette from causing fires.

Several illegal cigarette manufacturing operations, each capable of producing millions of illegal cigarettes, have been shut down across the UK and last month the government said it will consider licensing tobacco machinery.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, London regional director for Public Heath England (PHE), said: “Tobacco remains a high priority for PHE as half of all long-term smokers will die due to a smoking related illness.

“Although smoking rates for the UK, England and London have continued to fall, deep inequalities persist, with much higher prevalence among routine and manual workers.

“Our aim is to achieve a smoke-free generation and it is interesting to see the results of this survey which show that smokers think illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to take up smoking.

“While availability is declining nationally, it is clear that illegal tobacco undermines local efforts to prevent young people from starting smoking in the first place and to reduce overall smoking rates.”

Illegal sellers can be reported to trading standards teams, in confidence, via the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.