NEW CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS DANGERS OF ILLEGAL TOBACCO
A new campaign to highlight the dangers of illegal tobacco has been launched by the South East London Illegal Tobacco Network.
A recent survey commissioned by the network found that four in ten smokers had bought illegal tobacco in the last year. This implies that in excess of 114 million illegal cigarettes, with a street value of over £22 million, are being sold each year across the six SE London boroughs of Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham, Bromley, the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Bexley).
Illegal tobacco removes age restrictions and price pressure and has significant implications for the health and wellbeing of residents. Although smoking rates for the UK, England and London are falling, they remain stubbornly high in our more deprived communities in SE London and result in significant health inequalities.
“Keep it out” is a local campaign led by the six London boroughs South East London now has a page on the website www.keep-it-out.co.uk which gives information, local stories about illegal tobacco and an opportunity for the public to report illegal activity anonymously.
Over the past three years, the South East London Illegal Tobacco Network has been working together to address illegal tobacco through both enforcement and education. The group has been involved in several high profile operations with HMRC that have led to arrests, prosecutions and the seizure substantial amounts of tobacco, cash and other assets. It has also introduced the routine use of specialist sniffer dogs to find hidden tobacco during enforcement work.
Illegal tobacco is a billion pound trade in the UK with HMRC estimating that around one in ten cigarettes smoked in the UK is smuggled or counterfeit.
The link between illegal tobacco and large organised crime gangs is well proven. Trading Standards teams in SE London have direct experience of how some gangs who trade in illegal tobacco also trade in fake alcohol and fake medicines.
Nationally there is evidence these gangs can also have links to serious organised crime including: people smuggling and prostitution
While all cigarettes are a fire risk in the home, illegal cigarettes pose a particular risk as they do not comply with fire safety standards
Southwark cabinet member for public health Cllr Barrie Hargrove said: “It’s time that we stamp out illegal tobacco for good.
“People might be lured in by the cheap price tag, but it’s worth considering the great cost to your health, safety and community.
“I’m very glad to be working with other boroughs in south London as well as Public Health England (PHE) and the fire service on this – it’s an issue that requires a concerted effort from the ground up, especially when you consider how many children and young people are affected by the illegal products.”
TRADER SENTENCED OVER 82,000 COUNTERFEIT CIGARETTES HAUL
A trader who was caught selling counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco in East Street Market has been sentenced to a maximum of 12 months (suspended for two years).
The offences took place in March 2014 and concerned over 82,000 cigarettes as well as hand rolling tobacco. The court heard that following an anonymous tip-off the trader had been subject to surveillance by Southwark council’s trading standard team over a three month period in early 2014.
Officers saw the trader leaving a flat in SE1 for East Street market with a rucksack and shopping bag trolley. CCTV footage from the market showed that these contained cigarettes and tobacco which he appeared to sell.
Southwark council subsequently obtained an entry warrant for the flat and, on 23 March 2014, carried out a raid with police and HMRC officers.
Inside the flat they found and seized just over 77,000 cigarettes bearing well known trade marks of brands such as Mayfair, Marlboro and Palace. Illegal brand Jin Ling was also found as well as hand rolling tobacco and packaging labelled as Golden Virginia. Some of the cigarettes were found in boxes labelled as eggs and sanitary products.
At the same time as the raids the trader was arrested in East Street market whilst selling the illegal products. His rucksack and trolley was found to contain over 5,000 cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco.
Most of the products were later confirmed to be counterfeit with tests on two brands showing the fakes failed EU safety standards designed to reduce the fire risk.
The street value of the items seized was believed to be in the region of £21,000. The court ordered that these be forfeited and the council is now pursuing a proceeds of crime investigation.
Southwark council’s cabinet member for communities and safety Cllr Michael Situ said: “Far from being a victimless crime the trade in illegal tobacco damages our local economy and creates a cheap source for children and young people, as well as encouraging adults to continue smoking by eroding cost motivation to quit.
“It is also linked to organised crime and even terrorism. We’re determined to protect the health of our young people, and stopping people like this trader is a big part of this.”
If you suspect a retailer or an individual is selling illegal tobacco, please report it anonymously using the online form or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or Southwark Trading Standards on 020 7525 2750.