An undercover operation by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has found that one in eight London retailers are selling illegal tobacco products under the counter.

Research conducted by JTI among smokers in the capital also revealed that more than a third (37%) have purchased illegal cigarettes, with 28% having being offered illegal tobacco products in the last year. Furthermore, over a quarter (26%) of smokers in London admitted to buying illegal tobacco because it saves them money.

JTI also found that 1 in 10 smokers in London admit to having purchased illegal tobacco through social media channels, including Facebook.

Illegal tobacco currently accounts for nearly 13% of the ready made cigarette market, and 32% of roll your own tobacco in the UK. Earlier research shows that these products have been found to contain asbestos, mould, dust, dead flies, rat droppings and human excrement.

Steve Wilkins, JTI anti-illegal trade operations director, said the new research raised concerns that these figures may worsen once the sell-through period permitted by TPD2 and plain packaging regulations comes to an end on May 20.

He said: “This research reveals worrying statistics on the illegal tobacco trade in London, which could be exacerbated by the onset of plain packaging as packs become easier to duplicate and the legal requirement to produce only larger pack sizes lead to consumers looking for cheaper alternatives on the black market.

“JTI is committed to tackling the sale of illegal tobacco, and continues to work with law enforcement bodies to find and punish those selling illegal tobacco, both in stores and on social media channels, as part of a commitment to law abiding tobacco retailers and the category as a whole.”

He added that any retailer who knows of criminals supplying illegal cigarettes in their area should contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or the HMRC Fraud Hotline on 0800 788887.