Not all cigarettes are sold legally in the UK. There are big profits to be made by criminals and other organisations who bring cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco into the country by a variety of hidden means to avoid the high tax. This allows them to sell the tobacco very cheaply from places such as domestic homes, public houses, car boot sales and workplaces. These illegal ( illicit) cigarettes fall into one of the following groups;
- Counterfeit- These are fake cigarettes packed to make them look like the genuine brand of cigarette or hand-rolled tobacco pouch they are copying. They can be difficult to spot from the genuine packets but may have poor print quality or different size lettering or have health warnings and pictures missing.
- Smuggled – These are brands of cigarettes not available in shops in the UK that are made very cheaply in countries in Eastern Europe and elsewhere and smuggled in through ports and airports. Typical brands include Jin Ling, L&M, Marble, Raquel, Richman and Bon.
- Bootlegged- These are popular UK brands of cigarettes that are bought abroad from a country of low taxation and brought into the country hidden in baggage or as duty frees and sold. These can usually be recognised by foreign health warnings, no pictorial messages and no UK DUTY PAID mark.
How big is the problem?
Since 2000, 4 billion cigarettes and 1000 tonnes of hand-rolled tobacco being brought into the UK illegally have been seized by HM Revenue and Customs. 370 criminal gangs have been caught and over 2000 people prosecuted.
Despite all of the efforts at UK borders to keep out illicit tobacco, it is known that almost 1 in 7 cigarettes smoked in the UK this year will have been brought into the country and sold illegally.
Why is it such an issue?
Illicit tobacco sellers don’t care who they sell to as their only interest is making money – they often target young people who are attracted by the cheap price and ready availability. It, therefore, encourages many young people to start smoking and helps those who have started to smoke more. Illicit tobacco sellers usually target the poorer demographic where they know people have more difficulty in affording to buy cigarettes from retail outlets.
Illicit tobacco is often linked to organised crime and many of the traders also deal in drugs, alcohol and money laundering.
It puts retail shops out of business as they can’t compete with the cheaper prices of illicit tobacco. On average, a packet of 20 cigarettes bought in a shop in the UK is between £5.50 and £6.50 whereas a packet of 20 illicit cigarettes will cost between £2.50 and £3.50.
Is illicit tobacco more harmful to health?
Smoking any tobacco whether genuine or counterfeit is harmful to health. Illicit cigarettes are however often produced using poorer quality tobacco and in factories with poor hygiene which makes them contaminated with foreign materials.
How would I recognise illegal tobacco?
Genuine, legal packets of cigarettes or hand-rolled tobacco should have the following:
- There should be wording that says in capital letters UK DUTY PAID on the packs
- On the front of the packet, there should be a message that says either: “Smoking seriously harms you and others around you” or “Smoking kills”
- On the back of the packet, there should be a pictorial health warning.
- All wording on the packet should be in English
What should I do if I want to report someone selling illegal cigarettes?
If you have any information or want some advice on illegal tobacco, please contact North East Lincolnshire Council Trading Standards on 01472 324807
Alternatively, you can ring Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111 or you can complete an anonymous online form on the Crime Stoppers website.