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Fake cigarettes ‘cost UK economy £2bn per year’, councils warn | UK News

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The trade in fake cigarettes is costing the UK economy £2bn a year and harming efforts to persuade smokers to quit the deadly habit, councils have warned.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, has said millions of cheap, illegal cigarettes are flooding the market.

The LGA wants courts to hand out heavier fines for selling illegal cigarettes to help recoup the £2bn it says is lost to the Treasury annually in unpaid duty.

Herefordshire Council recently seized around 81,000 illegal cigarettes and a substantial amount of illegal hand rolling tobacco, worth £32,000 in unpaid duty, from three shops.

The contraband was found in remote controlled hydraulic hiding places in the walls and floors of the targeted premises.

Simon Blackburn, chairman of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said the illicit activity is “making it easier for young people to get hooked on smoking, which undermines councils’ efforts to help people quit.”

Illegal cigarettes seized by Durham County Council
Image:
Illegal cigarettes seized by Durham County Council

The illegal trade is made up of fake or counterfeit cigarettes, which resemble popular UK brands, but often lack picture warnings on the packaging and carry health warnings in a foreign language.

Cigarettes that are known as “non-duty paid”, or bootlegged, are UK brands usually brought into the country from abroad and sold illegally.

With Britain’s estimated 7.5 million smokers paying an average of around £10 for a packet of 20 cigarettes, it is easy to understand the appeal of cheaper, fake, alternatives.

Sniffer dogs are helping in the battle against the illegal trade and recent prosecutions resulted from illegal stashes of cigarettes found hidden in the walls and floors of shops and secret panels in cupboards.

One has recently been targeted by a criminal gang after a string of big finds.

Hauls have previously been found by Trading Standards officers hidden in toilet cisterns, in boxes of sweets, behind extractor fans and in ceiling lights.

“The sale of cheap, illegal tobacco by rogue traders in shops, private homes and through social media is funding organised criminal gangs and damaging legitimate traders, as well as making it easier for young people to get hooked on smoking, which undermines councils’ efforts to help people quit,” Mr Blackburn said.

The LGA says fake cigarettes are even more harmful to health and represent a greater fire risk than standard ones.

“No cigarette is good for you, but fake cigarettes contain even higher levels of cancer-causing toxins than standard cigarettes, so people should think twice about buying them.

“Counterfeit cigarettes also fail to extinguish themselves when left to burn, presenting a real danger to people,” Mr Blackburn added.

“Bigger fines need to be imposed by the courts to deter the sale of illegal tobacco to help councils’ enforcement work against rogue traders, reduce crime in our communities and protect the health of children and young people.”

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