One of the UK’s most senior legal figures has backed an Evening Post campaign to tackle the black market in illicit tobacco amid fears it is linked to other serious crimes such as human trafficking.
Solicitor General Oliver Heald QC MP, who sits on ministerial committees that focus on human trafficking and child abuse, spoke as he visited the Lancashire offices of the Crown Prosecution Service in Preston city centre.
He said: “Tax evasion is a huge problem that costs £14bn a year. That money should be going into schools, hospitals and policing. The country is in financial difficulty and the fact is very penny counts.
“It may seem to people they are doing nothing wrong buy buying illicit cigarettes but they are taking this money away from essential services.
“Organised crime gangs are committing a range of offences, including smuggling cigarette,s and the new National Crime Agency’s focus is going to be on regional organised crime groups and dealing with tackling smuggling, human trafficking as well as drugs, crime and prostitution.
“We are trying to get across the same point as the LEP - that smuggling is unacceptable. The HMRC wants to increase prosecutions regarding tax evasion, which includes tobacco smuggling, five fold to 1,500 cases a year.”
“We want to make sure this revenue finds its way into Lancashire’s schools hospitals and police service, and not into the hands of criminals.
The Solicitor General was visiting the county to find out more about groundbreaking work to tackle and prosecute human traffickers, following a successful case in East Lancashire.
The profits made by criminals from the illicit tobacco trade is known to fuel other crimes such as human trafficking and prostitution.
County Council figures suggest an estimated 50,000 people in Lancashire smoke illegal cigarettes, with many believing they are getting a good deal by buying a pack for half the price of legal tobacco sold by legitimate retailers.
But few realise the true story behind Lancashire’s black market tobacco trade.
Though all tobacco is deadly, unregulated and unlicensed illegal products have been found by scientists to contain harmful additions like rat droppings, sawdust and plastic and sometimes higher levels of nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide.
It is often peddled to youngsters and people in disadvantaged communities that already suffer higher rates of smoking elated illnesses.
The availability of illegal tobacco reduces the incentive for people to quit.
The average UK taxpayer forks out £100 a year due to the effects of the illicit tobacco trade.
Anyone who suspects illicit tobacco is being sold can 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.