The Evening Post joined delegates at an event to raise awareness among politicians of the threat posed to communities by the illicit tobacco trade.
Supporters of the Evening Post’s Don’t Let them Make A Packet campaign addressed a room of around 20 delegates at Manchester’s Palace Hotel in a fringe event coinciding with the Tory party conference.
Reporter Stef Hall, who has been leading the campaign, joined Lancashire retailer Suleman Khonat, Blackburn Coun Denise Gee, Peter Osborne of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association and former Trading Standards officer Tony Allen.
Around 50,000 people are estimated to smoke illicit tobacco in Lancashire – with much of it peddled in disadvantaged communities.
The pocket money prices reduce the incentive for people to quit, leads to more young people taking up the habit, and affecting the livelihoods of legitimate retailers.
Unregulated products made in poor conditions and smuggled into the UK have also been found to contain rat droppings, floor sweepings and dead flies, and profits made from them funds other serious crimes.
Explaining the background to the campaign to delegates, Stef, 31, said: “The public hear a lot about drugs crime, terrorism and human trafficking but the problem of illicit tobacco seems to remain silent and although a lot of work into tackling the issue is going on behind the scenes, until now the public did not seem to know an awful lot about it.
“Significantly it appears many of the players connected to the crimes I’ve mentioned have connections to the illicit tobacco trade.
“I believe it’s part of a newspaper’s role to raise awareness of issues that affect a community and stimulate debate about them.”
She said that an increase in intelligence to Crimestoppers and Trading Standards showed people’s attitudes were changing but added: “We are now calling on the people who represent us in Parliament to bring this matter to the Government’s attention.”
Delegates expressed fears about potential council cuts that could affect departments like Trading Standards, which have a key role in tackling the illicit trade, and urged councillors to voice concerns to their superiors.
Lancashire Coun Coun Denise Gee, added: “I applaud the LEP’s campaign, but we as councillors must do more to bring this to people’s attention and advise people how they can report dealers.”
Contact the Citizen’s Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. For help quitting smoking call 0800 328 6297.