HEALTH bosses have branded Lancashire’s illicit tobacco trade as a “major concern”.
A public health report for Lancashire, produced for the first time in 2011, focuses on what the directors of public health in the county believe are the main current challenges in tackling health inequalities between richer and poorer communities.
The report said not only does the sale of illicit tobacco locally undermine all other efforts to reduce smoking rates, it also discourages people who smoke to quit, encourages those who smoke to smoke more and is linked to local and large scale organised crime.
Smoking kills around 2,106 people each year in Lancashire alone and more than a fifth of Lancastrians smoke.
An alarming health survey showed nearly two thirds (64%) of smokers in Lancashire who buy illicit tobacco said that it made it possible for them to smoke when they could not afford to smoke otherwise.
And research by pressure group Illicit Tobacco North suggests buyers of illicit tobacco smoke on average 18 cigarettes a day compared to 16 a day for normal smokers.
Suzanne Gilman, speciality registrar for Central Lancashire Primary Care Trust, said: “Low income communities tend to have higher rates of cancers, coronary heart disease and respiratory disease and many of these preventable diseases are linked to the use of tobacco.
“The growing market for counterfeit and bootlegged cigarettes is often linked to organised criminal activity.
“As products are unregulated they are widely available to children, containing high levels of chemicals and toxins that are dangerous to health.
“The lower pricing of illegal products mean that new and current smokers are likely to smoke more and find quitting more difficult.”
Health chiefs in Lancashire are supporting the Evening Post’s Don’t Let Them Make a Packet campaign which aims to raise awareness of the dangers of illicit and counterfeit tobacco, particularly among young and vulnerable people in deprived communities who are often preyed on by black market traders.
They are hoping readers will make more calls about illegal traders to police and Trading Standards so that the unscrupulous counterfeit and illicit tobacco sellers - often linked to the criminal underworld - can be brought to justice.
Illicit tobacco is more likely to be sold in poor and disadvantaged communities, often to children.
Data from a national survey indicates that smoking prevalence for adults living in deprived areas of Preston is around 30%.
Ms Gilman said less affluent local communities tend to have much higher levels of smoking and low rates of quitting.
Preston also has a large South Asian population and rates of smoking in this ethnic group are high.
If you suspect anyone of selling illicit tobacco, or want advice on the issue contact the Citizen’s Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06 or Crimestoppers in confidence on 0800 555 111.
For help quitting smoking call the Stop Smoking team on 0800 328 6297.