Lancashire Evening Post campaign hailed as success after 40 black market tobacco traders are prosecuted.
The Evening Post’s campaign to thwart Lancashire’s illicit tobacco trade was today hailed a success.
Since launching our ‘Don’t Let Them Make A Packet’, a total of 42 illicit tobacco dealers have been prosecuted and figures revealed the number of youngsters buying tobacco from unscrupulous dealers, operating from places like ice cream vans, has plunged.
County Council figures suggest around 50,000 people in Lancashire smoke illegal cigarettes, many believing they are getting a good deal by buying cheap tobacco without realising the sickening story behind Lancashire’s illegal tobacco trade.
Our ‘Don’t Let Them Make A Packet’ aimed to increase information passed to authorities and increase the number of dealers prosecuted and brought to justice.
Trading Standards officers were concerned at a lack of people coming forward with information to shop suspected dealers in Preston, where not a single dealer was prosecuted in the last two years.
In the 12 months before the campaign, 30 people were prosecuted in Lancashire over illegal tobacco sales, and this increased to 35 as the campaign ran last year.
But evidence gathered while the campaign ran has led to seven shop traders from Preston summonsed before magistrates in the first two weeks of 2014 – up from zero the previous year.
Trading Standards, which prosecutes rogue retailers, has confirmed six other traders have been given formal cautions in the last 12 months and that other cases in the city are pending.
Today Coun Janice Hanson, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for public protection and waste, said: “These figures reflect a combination of robust enforcement action and an increased awareness among consumers in Lancashire.
“With the LEP’s help, we have raised the profile of our work which helps to provide better intelligence.
“This is helping us in the fight against illicit tobacco sales.”
Traders who sell illegal tobacco – for far cheaper prices than legal cigarettes –make it affordable for people to smoke, reducing the incentive for people to quit and leading to more people dying from smoking related illnesses.
Often recruiting lower scale ‘runners’ – including children – to do their dirty work, the products are peddled in Lancashire’s poorest, most disadvantaged communities where criminals know residents cannot afford full priced cigarettes.
It means the incentive to quit for people in places like Brookfield, Preston, which has one of the highest smoking rates in the county, is severely affected.
Cancer Research UK estimates that illicit tobacco products are responsible for four times as many deaths as illegal drugs.
The pocket money prices also make it affordable for younger people to take up the deadly habit, and the trade undercuts genuine Lancashire traders such as corner shops, affecting livelihoods and jobs, and funding serious crime.
The trade leads to added pressure on Lancashire’s hospitals and health agencies and ultimately more cost to tax payers – who will on average lose £100 a year because of the black market tobacco trade.
Though all tobacco is deadly, the unregulated and unlicensed illegal products have been found by scientists to contain harmful additions like rat droppings, sawdust and plastic, and the quality of the tobacco is poor, meaning the county’s smokers are exposed to higher levels of nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide.
During the campaign, UCLan scientists found harmful amounts of a chemical linked to bone cancer in a packet of counterfeit cigarettes sold in Preston.
An undercover reporter was sold more than 200 illegal cigarettes in 90 minutes in Preston city centre, and a few weeks after the campaign was launched, an illegal tobacco factory was exposed by Customs chiefs in Burscough.
Crimestoppers recorded a 40 per cent increase in calls about illicit tobacco in the North West during the period of the campaign.
Regional manager Gary Murray said: “Crimestoppers is delighted to support the LEP campaign on illicit tobacco and we would urge the public to continue to contact the charity on 0800 555111 or online with information on this crime anonymously.
“Many of those who are involved in dealing in illicit tobacco are also involved in serious and organised crime and they do not care about the damage they are doing to our communities or people’s health. It is fantastic that, as a result of this campaign, so many criminals are being arrested and convicted.”
It is backed by Lancashire Police, Lancashire Trading Standards, Crimestoppers, Central Lancashire Primary Care Trust, Preston City Council and pressure group Tobacco Free Futures, as well as figures from the tobacco industry.
The Evening Post joined guests at a fringe event at the Tory party conference and a trader’s conference in Rochdale to raise awareness among delegates.