AN expert illicit tobacco investigator today said Lancashire’s infrastructure made it appealing to criminals involved in the black market for tobacco.
Will O’Reilly, a retired detective chief inspector with Scotland Yard, says the vast motorway network, ports at the coast, and proximity to airports and major towns and cities made the county a prime spot for crime groups looking to ply their trade.
The M6, M55, M61 and M65 all pass through Lancashire and its has ports at Heysham and Fleetwood. It also has its own airport in Blackpool and is close to two other major airports at Manchester and Liverpool
He said: “ Just as armed robberies of the 70s and 80s made way for the drugs trade and large scale fraud in the 90s, so a new crime of choice has emerged, which carries even less risk and even greater profits.
“The trade in illicit tobacco has become the primary source of revenue for some criminal gangs and terrorist groups. It has already reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the UK.
“Most comes in by air or sea then is carried by road.”
Counterfeiters in China can manufacture a pack of cigarettes for less than 20p. A shipping container fully loaded with 10 million cigarettes can convert into a £1.5m profit to a criminal group.
The cost in lost revenue to the Treasury was estimated at around £3.1bn in 2009 - equivalent to more than £100 for each family.
Black market cigarettes fall into three categories - those smuggled from abroad; counterfeit cigarettes made to look like the real thing, and illicit whites produced illegally for the sole purpose of smuggling, such as Jin Ling.
Analysis of seized counterfeit cigarettes have shown them to contain rat droppings, asbestos, mould, saw dust, excrement, and crushed flies.
Will was commissioned by a tobacco firm to conduct research in various cities, and said some dealers even offered cigarettes by the single stick, blatantly aimed at children and their pocket money.
He added:” It is little wonder criminal groups are turning their backs on riskier enterprises such as hard drugs to one where profits are large, the risks of getting caught are small and the penalties, if caught, are not substantial.
That’s why we are urging people to support LEP’s campaign and e -petition calling for tougher action on dealers.”