A campaign to thwart Lancashire’s illicit tobacco trade was today hailed a success after figures revealed the number of youngsters buying tobacco from unscrupulous dealers operating from places like ice cream vans has plunged.
The survey of 3,676 children aged 14 to 17 in the county was carried out as the Evening Post continues its drive to raise awareness of the black market in tobacco and the impact on communities.
It showed the number of young people buying from dubious places such as car boots, or neighbouring houses, fell from 38 per cent to 29.3 per cent.
The number of youngsters admitting buying cigarette packs without legal health warnings – usually meaning they are counterfeit or non-duty paid – also plummeted from 53 per cent in 2011 to 38 per cent this year.
Lancashire County Council’s principal trading standards officer, Julie Waddington, said: “We are pleased with the results of the recent study which shows the number of young people in Lancashire who have bought illegal cigarettes has gone down overall.
“The various initiatives to raise awareness via national campaigns, enforcement activity, working with schools and the Lancashire Evening Post’s ‘Don’t Let Them Make a Packet’ campaign may have reduced the amount of illegal cigarettes on sale in the county.”
A spokesman for the Tobacco Free Futures charity added: “Reductions like this happen because partners including Trading Standards, Tobacco Free Futures, HMRC and local authorities work together at a regional and local level.
“The LEP has also helped raise awareness through illegal tobacco and its effects across Lancashire.”
But Andrea Crossfield, the charity’s director, today warned the battle was not over as illicit tobacco dealers are likely to target children over the summer holidays.
She urged parents in Lancashire to help keep illegal tobacco off the streets by continuing to pass on information to Crimestoppers or Trading Standards it they know where illegal cigarettes and tobacco are being sold.
She said: “During the school holidays, children will be out and about with friends and we need to ensure illegal tobacco sellers aren’t able to turn this into a business opportunity.
“There’s also likely to be more duty free tobacco in circulation and we need to ensure children don’t end up as the customers. All smoking kills but illegal tobacco is an easy source of tobacco to get children hooked on an addiction that kills half of all smokers.”
The Evening Post previously revealed how the county’s criminal underworld is profiting from smuggling illicit cigarettes and tobacco and selling them on the black market, often to the most vulnerable and impressionable in our society.
County Council figures suggest an estimated 50,000 people in Lancashire smoke illegal cigarettes, believing they are getting a good deal by buying a pack at half the price of tobacco sold by legitimate retailers.
Health bosses also fear it is encouraging more children to smoke because counterfeit or illicit tobacco is cheap and easy to get hold of, without being challenged about their age.
Lorraine Fullbrook, South Ribble Tory MP, said: “The LEP should be commended for their work in highlighting the issue of illicit tobacco. Not only does illicit tobacco cost taxpayers money in lost revenues but the availability of illegal tobacco also undermines public health.
“The Home Affairs Select Committee, of which I am a Member, recently announced a new inquiry into tobacco smuggling and I look forward to looking into the scale of the problem and what can be done about it over the coming months.”
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.
Anyone who knows where illegal tobacco is being sold can pass on information to Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.