Warning by local councils over black market cigarettes

Cigarettes Image copyright PA
Image caption Hundreds of thousands of illegal cigarettes have been seized in raids

Attempts to cut the amount people smoke are being hit by a black market trade in millions of illegal cigarettes, council bosses have warned.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said such products posed a fire risk, hurt legitimate businesses and cost the UK about £3bn a year in unpaid duty.

In some cases these cigarettes contained human excrement, dead flies and asbestos, the LGA added.

Councils have carried out a series of raids to target the illicit trade.

Hundreds of thousands of illegal cigarettes have been seized in Wolverhampton, Bristol and Nottingham, and sniffer dogs were used to search 12 locations in Birmingham.

Southwark, Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth and Lewisham councils in south London have joined forces to tackle the trade in the estimated 114 million illicit cigarettes sold across their areas each year.

Trading standards officers have found fake cigarettes hidden inside vacuum cleaners, under floorboards and in toilet cisterns.

'Rogue traders'

Many feature much higher levels of toxic ingredients such as tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide, lead, cadmium and arsenic than normal cigarettes.

They also may not have safety precautions that ensure genuine cigarettes put themselves out if they are not smoked, thus reducing the risk of accidental fires.

Joanna Spicer, vice-chairwoman of the LGA's safer and stronger communities board, said: "Counterfeit tobacco being sold cheaply through the black market by rogue traders is hampering council efforts to reduce smoking.

"This illicit trade is also funding organised criminal gangs, damaging the livelihoods of honest businesses and costing taxpayers billions of pounds a year.

"People buying cheap cigarettes might think they are getting a great deal - but the truth is that they're not. If they knew what they might contain, they might think twice about buying them.

"Council prosecutions should serve as a strong warning to any shopkeeper thinking of stocking their shelves with illegal tobacco and not thinking twice about selling them cheaply to children and others."

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