Criminals are reaping in over £100 million a year from London’s trade in illegal tobacco and undermining efforts to support smokers to quit, trading standards and public health experts have warned.
Illegal tobacco products, such as cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco, are smuggled into the UK and are considerably cheaper than legal equivalents, with prices ranging from £3.50 to £7 per packet. Illegal tobacco is usually authentic tobacco industry brands but can be counterfeit, produced in the UK or abroad, and sold at rock bottom prices by unscrupulous criminals.
Selling single cigarettes is also illegal and is of particular concern. The availability of single cigarettes at ‘pocket money prices’ makes it easier for children to buy tobacco and to develop smoking habits.
Research suggests around 15 per cent of cigarettes smoked in London come from illicit trade, with illegal tobacco sold in a range of locations across London – including private homes, pubs, and shops. Many of the criminals smuggling and selling illegal tobacco are also involved in drug dealing, money laundering, and people trafficking.
The warning from officials comes as the ‘Stamp IT Out London’ summer campaign against illegal tobacco gets underway, with Londoners urged to look out for illegal tobacco products and to report on the premises and individuals that sell it.
The campaign, which is supported by London Councils, the Mayor of London, London Trading Standards, Public Health England London, the London Association of Directors of Public Health London, and Action on Smoking and Health aims to make it less socially acceptable to buy and sell illegal tobacco.
A series of roadshows involving sniffer dogs, public health and trading standards officers, the Fire Brigade, stop smoking services and other partners will visit locations across London over the summer months, providing information to the public about the different types of illegal tobacco and the importance of stamping out the trade.
Dr Somen Banerjee, Director of Public Health at Tower Hamlets and Vice Chair of London Association of Directors of Public Health, said: “Smoking is a deadly habit that remains one of the main causes of preventable early deaths in the capital. The impact of illegal tobacco is a serious public health challenge, particularly among young people and in deprived areas of London. Access to cheap illegal tobacco makes it easier for young people to start smoking, with severe implications for their long-term health. “This campaign is crucial for raising awareness of the dangers of illegal tobacco and reducing its availability. By working together to stamp it out, we’re creating a healthier environment for all Londoners.”
Tell-tale signs of illegal tobacco include:
o Packets with foreign language health warnings
o No pictures or old-style health warnings
o Being much cheaper than normal cigarettes (i.e. £3.50 – £7.00 per pack of 20)
o Branded instead of plain packaging
o Unusual or foreign brand names, such as Jin Ling – or those from Russia and the Far East.
If Londoners see any tobacco products that match the description above or have information which may be useful, they are advised to call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or report it online at: www.londontradingstandards.org.uk/report-consumer-crime.
Londoners can also access information and telephone support through the London stop smoking portal at: www.stopsmokinglondon.com.
The pan-London Tobacco Control Campaign roadshow in Tower Hamlets Council will take place on Thursday 11th July from 10.30am – 4.00pm at Watney Market/Commercial Road end. The team will be showcasing the detection dogs from Wagtail as well as survey people for tobacco-related intel and Quit Right will be providing support for anyone who wishes to consider quitting smoking.