Shock figures today reveal almost a fifth of cigarettes sold in Preston are illicit.
An industry survey in which hundreds of empty packets were taken from bins and off the ground showed 17.3% of all packs surveyed in the city in the last quarter of 2012 were either illegal or bought outside of the UK.
It is an alarming increase of almost 5% compared to the same period in 2011.
The survey was carried out in 105 cities across the UK to highlight the use of bootlegged, smuggled or counterfeit cigarettes.
However the city fared better than the North west as a whole which recorded 23%.
Simon Jackson, owner of the Smoking Shop, based in Oyston Mill, Strand Road, Ashton, said: “The illicit trade is always a problem. I used to run The Magazine Shop in the city centre and we often struggled against illegal traders. It has been a struggle for years for the legitimate tobacconist trade against bootleggers and fake cigarettes.
“To be told almost one in five packs in the city are illicit is a shock, it is quite a lot, you are talking container loads of the things. I would have expected more like one in 10.”
The Evening Post’s Don’t Let Them Make a Packet campaign has lifted the lid on 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 communities.
Cheap illegal cigarettes are often sold on street corners and in ‘fag houses’, and criminal gangs are known to routinely target children.
The campaign has scored significant success after Trading Standards chiefs, who are tackling the trade, revealed a THIRD more people came forward with information whilst the campaign has been running. Crimestoppers bosses said they had seen a massive increase in intelligence regarding Lancashire’s illicit trade.
To report illicit dealers call Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.