A campaign against the illegal tobacco trade has been launched by the Lancashire Evening Post, because it says the trade is fuelling crime in local communities.

The newspaper has set up an e-petition on the Government’s website calling for a crackdown on tobacco smugglers, and if it can obtain 100,000 signatures the subject will be eligible to be debated in Parliament.

The petition says: “We the undersigned call upon the Government to toughen up the penalties available to the relevant authorities for prosecuting criminals involved in the illegal tobacco trade, to recognise the grave threat it poses to our communities in terms of crime and undermining health agencies’ efforts to get smokers to quit, and to ask the Government to pledge to tackle the discrepancies between the punishments for comparatively similar drugs cases and bring the penalties for illicit tobacco offences in line with drugs offences. We ask the Government to recognise that the profits made by criminals in tobacco smuggling/selling cases are often much more than those made from drugs, with less serious consequences for the criminal. This needs to change.”

Peter Osborne, of the Tobacco Manufacturer’s Association, said: “It is really important that readers sign the e-petition so that the Government understands the real strength of feeling about what is not a victimless crime.

“We are all paying the price of illegal tobacco, whether it’s legitimate businesses that lose out, the loss of tax revenues which could pay for much needed public services, or the associated criminality brought into communities.”

Suleman Khonat, Lancashire newsagent and North West Spokesman of the Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance, added: “It would be great if as many shopkeepers as possible across the North West could sign this petition. It’s really easy to do, and it would help bring to the government’s attention how badly tobacco smuggling affects independent retailers, and how more needs to be done to protect our livelihoods and the important role we play in communities.”

The petition can be signed here