Huge quantities of illicit cigarettes are being taken off the streets by councils as they continue cracking down on the illegal trade, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).
It said that recent council hauls have seen sniffer dogs used to trace bootlegged and counterfeit tobacco, and that millions of illegal cigarettes worth hundreds of thousands of pounds are regularly seized by councils. Recent raids and prosecutions have taken place in in Manchester, Croydon and Coventry.
The LGA also warned about the increased health risks associated with the trade. Many fake cigarettes contain higher levels of toxic ingredients such as tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide, lead and arsenic than genuine brand-name cigarettes. Counterfeits also contain up to 500% more cadmium than their genuine counterparts.
Alongside the health risks, fake cigarettes also pose a greater fire risk as they do not include designs that ensure that a lit cigarette will self-extinguish if not actively smoked. This reduces the chances of them starting a fire if they are left burning in an ashtray, dropped or if the smoker falls asleep.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Illegal tobacco being sold cheaply through the black market by rogue traders is funding organised criminal gangs, damaging legitimate traders and robbing the tax payer of more than £2bn that could be spent on schools, hospitals and caring for the elderly.
“Cheap cigarettes might be tempting to buy because people think they are getting a good deal on brand-name cigarettes. The reality is that cheap cigarettes are often fakes.
“No cigarettes are good for you, and fake cigarettes contain even higher levels of cancer-causing toxins than standard cigarettes, so people should think twice about buying them.
“Aside from the content being unregulated and dangerous, fake cigarettes fail to extinguish themselves when left to burn, presenting a real danger to people.
“Children and young smokers can often be targeted by people who sell illegal cigarettes, making it even easier for them to get hooked on smoking.
“Any shopkeeper thinking of selling illegal tobacco should think again. Trading standards teams at councils nationwide will continue to carry out enforcement exercises that target rogue traders and help to protect the health of children and young people.”