Counterfeit tobacco ‘kills 4,000 a year’
Updated on 10 December 2009
Legitimate shopkeepers, as well as market traders, are selling illegal cigarettes in a trade costing the exchequer up to £4bn a year, More4 News has found.
The More4 News investigation has revealed evidence of -
- A multi-million pound trade estimated to account for one in seven cigarettes bought in the UK. One market seller told us he made almost £2,000 a day, and that he was expecting a boom ahead of Christmas.
- Sellers targeting children, bypassing controls on sale of tobacco to under-18. One investigation by trading standards officers found 50 per cent of young smokers had bought illegal cigarettes, and one 16-year-old told us he had bought them from an ice cream vendor.
- A serious health impact from the trade. Cancer expert professor Robert West told us the trader is responsible for 4,000 extra deaths a year, because the low price increases the amount smoked.
- Regular tobacconists, filmed secretly by More4 news, are selling illegal brands under the counter. These are specially produced in China and eastern Europe and have no legitimate market.
The trade in illegal cigarettes is controlled by criminal networks, and is now as lucrative as drug smuggling. One smuggled container-load of cigarettes can net one million pounds. About half of those sold are counterfeits of branded cigarettes.
One street seller told our undercover reporter he could get various brands: "Classics, Regals, maybe Lambert and Butler." But the rest are specially produced brands such as Jin Ling, made in China and eastern Europe for the illegal market.
There is no legitimate market for these products, yet we filmed shopkeepers selling them under the counter to our undercover reporter when he asked for "cheap fags". Because there are no controls on who buys tobacco from illegal sellers, the trade is blamed by many for getting children addicted to smoking.
We filmed the arrest of a street seller who sold illegal cigarettes to a clearly under age teenager in east London's Brick Lane market. John McCrohan of Tower Hamlets trading standards office said that because the tobacco was being sold at half price, "it will lead children into smoking, there's no doubt".
One 16-year old smoker said he started using his dinner money to buy illegal cigarettes aged 12: "I've always bought them, cos they're about half price", he told us. "A lot of ice cream men, you'd approach them and be like, 'Do you have any imported tobacco?' And they'd be either yes or no."
Professor Robert West, an expert on the health effects of smoking, told us he had calculated that an extra 4,000 deaths a year could be attributed to the trade, because it enabled smokers to afford twice as much tobacco.
"It's about four times more than the number of deaths caused by smuggling of all illicit drugs put together", he told us. "The reason for that is that it's leading more people to carry on smoking or take up smoking.”