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Over 4,200 reports about illegal tobacco from public since 2017 as public urged to help stop kids smoking

PEOPLE in the North East are being urged to help stop local kids from smoking by reporting the sale of illegal tobacco.

It comes as new figures show that around one in 10 cigarettes smoked in the North East is illegal – with private homes or “tab houses” and dishonest shops the two leading illicit sources for buyers. And around one in six NE smokers buy illegal tobacco – slightly fewer than the one in four smokers who were buying it back in 2009.

The figures are from a new survey released this week by Fresh which has tracked the size and scale of the illegal tobacco market over the past decade. It comes as the Keep it Out campaign runs another phase to generate intelligence for trading standards, police and HMRC to take action against dealers in local communities and to highlight the problems caused by illegal tobacco.

Since November 2017, Keep It Out has generated over 4200 intelligence reports to trading standards, leading to seizures, court action and shops facing closure orders and huge fines through the campaign. 87% of people in the North East believe illegal tobacco is a danger to kids and 69% of people believe it brings crime into local communities.

The survey also shows that smoking is an addiction which starts in childhood with 15 the average age for North East smokers to have started smoking.

All people need to do is visit or call 0300 999 0000 to report local sales to trading standards with full anonymity.

Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh, said: “Tackling illegal tobacco is part of wider efforts to help make smoking history for future generations and to help them avoid the misery of a smoking-caused disease such as lung cancer or COPD. 15 people a day die from smoking in the North East and that is whether they smoke legal or illegal tobacco. Price is the best policy to help reduce smoking – especially preventing younger people from starting – and illegal tobacco undercuts this.

“Nobody wants our children to smoke, but people who sell illegal tobacco usually don’t care who they sell to and there are regular reports of kids buying it and dealers selling to them. That is why we have seen thousands of people giving information about local illegal tobacco sales and why most people see it as a danger rather than a victimless crime.

She added: “It is encouraging to see the proportion of smokers buying and smoking illegal tobacco has decreased since 2009. However, we know illegal tobacco is more of a problem in some parts of our towns and cities and that it is fuelling the addiction of smokers, pushing the health risks ever-closer and getting young people hooked.”

Watch Tracey Johnson from Gateshead Trading Standards talking about how they have had reports of children in school uniform buying from local illegal tobacco dealers.

Tobacco companies have facilitated the smuggling of their own cigarettes and roll your own tobacco for decades. Internal company documents reveal that in the 1990s smuggling was an integral part of tobacco companies’ business strategies. Published evidence indicates that tobacco companies remain involved in tobacco smuggling and that tobacco industry cigarettes account for around two-thirds of the illicit cigarette market.

The North East Illegal Tobacco Survey has tracked the size of the illegal tobacco market as an average in the region since 2009 and people’s attitudes towards it. In 2019 it found:

 16% of smokers (an est. 54,000 people) in 2019 were illicit tobacco buyers sometimes, often or occasionally – down significantly from the 23% recorded in 2009. However – 51% of these buyers (est. 27,500 people) purchase it at least once a week, with frequent illicit tobacco purchases on the rise – increasing wave-on-wave from 29% in 2011.

  • An estimated 10% of all tobacco smoked in the North East is illegal – this is largely unchanged since 2013 but is lower than the original 2009 study when 15% of tobacco smoked was illegal. However, in more deprived areas with higher smoking rates the market share will be higher.
  • Almost half (47%) of illicit tobacco buyers mainly purchase from a private address, also known as “tab houses”. The bulk of the remainder is from a pub / club (23%) or shop (16%). Almost two-thirds of buyers will purchase their illicit tobacco from just the one source / seller.
  • The majority (61%) of illicit tobacco bought is a UK brand which is cheaply priced. Counterfeit and foreign brands of illicit tobacco continue to form a minority of illicit purchase (22% and 17% respectively)
  • 43% of smokers said they had ever encountered the sale of illicit tobacco.

In addition, there is strong support from the public for more restrictions on selling tobacco:

  • 93% think that  businesses should require a licence to sell tobacco which can be removed if they are caught selling illicit tobacco or selling to kids
  • 66% of people support raising the age of sale of tobacco from 18 to 21 to help reduce young people starting to smoke

As well as helping children to start smoking, criminal gangs supplying illegal tobacco are often involved in people trafficking, drugs or loan sharking. Buying it means supporting crime and can bring children into contact and into debt with criminals

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