London ,

Growing concern for illegal tobacco trade

Smokers themselves are calling for action against the widespread availability of cheap illegal tobacco – a joint report commissioned by seven London Boroughs, including Camden and Islington, and Public Health England has found

The report published on January 4, found 60 per cent of the 1,200 smokers surveyed said something should be done about the sale of cheap illegal tobacco.

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 smokers to quit the habit.

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

Councillor Sally Gimson Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care said: “Worryingly this report indicates 44% of smokers in Camden and 33% in Islington found it easy to buy cheap illegal tobacco.”

“They also said the availability of cheap tobacco makes it possible for them to continue to smoke – where they would otherwise not be able to afford to continue doing so.

“The many negative long term health effects of smoking are beyond dispute, not to mention the substantial pressure and financial strain the effects of smoking add to an already struggling NHS. We will be stepping up our efforts to stop the sale of illegal tobacco in Camden, I strongly encourage residents who see or hear about illegal tobacco being sold in the Borough to report it to the Council so we can take action,” Councillor Gimson concluded.

Islington Council’s Deputy Leader and executive member for Health and Wellbeing, Cllr Janet Burgess, said: “This report shows there are real concerns that cheap, illegal, easily available tobacco not only hampers smokers’ efforts to quit, but increases the risk of children starting.

“Trading Standards teams in both boroughs are working hard to crackdown on those who sell counterfeit tobacco or supply tobacco products to children and young people under 18.

“Islington council is committed to helping our residents lead healthy lives. As part of our ‘New Year, New You’ campaign, we’re encouraging smokers who want to quit to seek expert help and face-to-face support from their local stop smoking advisor.”

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.”

Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest were the seven participating London Boroughs.

Camden and Islington’s Trading Standards teams work with business in their Boroughs to ensure the tobacco they supply and sell complies with the law.

Enforcement action is regularly taken against those who sell counterfeit or illicit tobacco, and those who sell to children under the age of 18.

Any information about tobacco sellers who do not comply with the law can be reported to trading standards teams, in confidence, via the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.

You can view the full report here: