Small business owners from Greater Manchester have shared their experiences of the illegal tobacco trade. This is what they tell us.
“‘Cheap tobacco’ sold under the counter in local shops is hitting honest businesses and communities hard.”
“Guys from abroad tell us that if we don’t sell illegal tobacco, they will wait for us to lock up and follow us home. I fear for my family.
“I have been told they will destroy the business I have worked so hard to build. Put a brick through the window or set it on fire. Or, I have been asked to give up my premises, so a neighbouring rogue retailer can use it to store and sell illegal tobacco – another ‘bargain shop’ on the high street.
“I’m scared of the repercussions. I feel threatened by these people who have a network of organised crime behind them.
“How can I compete with illegal tobacco sellers who make thousands a day?
“That’s what people who buy cheap, ‘duty free’, cigarettes and tobacco don’t realise. There is a huge hidden cost to them saving a few pounds.
“It makes me really sad for our local communities and high streets. I know local corner shops, barber shops, kebab houses, car washes all with links to the illegal tobacco trade. And the illegal tobacco sellers near me have no problem selling to underage smokers.
“They are making so much money while my business struggles to recover from the lockdowns. I’ve been so worried I went to the council to see if they could help deal with these criminals. I now know the council is working hard to cut the illegal tobacco supply. But they need businesses and residents to keep telling them where illegal tobacco is being sold so they can investigate and take the product off the street, while ensuring anyone selling smuggled or fake tobacco will face penalties – fines, tax bills, removal of alcohol licences, shop closures or prison sentences.
“I was shocked to learn that one in two smokers will die from their habit – that’s made me think about whether it’s ethically right to sell any tobacco, illegal or not.
“Tobacco manufacturers often use illegal tobacco as the argument against increasing tougher measures for all tobacco sales. But government stats actually show the market share of illegal tobacco has gone down since 2000 despite all the changes to how tobacco is sold – increased age of sale, the disappearance of cigarettes behind doors and plain packaging. I’d like to start freeing up space for products that actually turn a decent profit.
“The people who sell illegal tobacco are the face of a long chain of crime and smuggling, usually involving drugs and people trafficking. The people making huge money from illegal tobacco prey on vulnerable people to smuggle, move, store and sell their products.
“I’m asking residents to report illegal tobacco sales. Saving a few quid isn’t worth the impact it’s having.”
If you know where illegal tobacco is being sold, you can report anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online at keep-it-out.co.uk