A parlimentary motion backing the Evening Post’s campaign for stronger penalties for the sale of illicit tobacco has been signed by 11 politicians within hours of being tabled.
Preston’s Labour MP Mark Hendrick, who is supporting the Evening Post’s Don’t Let Them Make A Packet campaign, also urged fellow politicians to throw their weight behind the drive.
It aims to raise awareness of the issue and reduce the number of young and vulnerable people in deprived areas of the county being preyed on by unscrupulous illicit sellers.
It also aims to increase reports to police and Trading Standards and increase the number of criminals prosecuted.
Today Mr Hendrick said: “Young people are particularly vulnerable to illicit tobacco and this is becoming more popular in Lancashire.
“It is essential the authorities crack down on this as it has huge health consequences to the people of Preston as well as a loss in revenue to the Government at a time it can ill afford it.
“I have put forward an Early Day Motion forward supporting the campaign and hope my colleagues support it too.”
The EDM – a formal motion allowing MPs to draw attention to an event or cause for debate in the House of Commons – says “that this House calls for stronger penalties for the sale of counterfeit tobacco, including shisha tobacco, and an increased drive to secure more criminal prosecutions to reduce the trade in illicit tobacco, which is often linked to drugs, human trafficking and prostitution.”
It adds that the House “notes that while the risks of smoking are well documented, unlicensed and unregulated tobacco can contain products which cause additional harm to human health; further notes that the sale of illicit tobacco undermines the impact of tax increases on reducing consumption and disproportionately impacts young and vulnerable people in deprived communities; and welcomes campaigns to raise awareness of this issue in local communities, including the Lancashire Evening Post’s Don’t Let Them Make A Packet campaign.”
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 will realise the true story behind Lancashire’s black market tobacco trade.
Some forms of illicit cigarettes have been made by poverty stricken families – many of them youngsters – exploited in damp and filthy sweatshops in the Far East and Russia.
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 sometimes higher levels of nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide.
The few criminals that are prosecuted usually receive far more lenient sentences that would usually result from a comparatively similar drugs case even though they can make much more profit from tobacco than drugs.
The average UK taxpayer forks out £100 a year due to the effects of the illicit tobacco trade.
Yet only 133 people were prosecuted for illicit tobacco offences in the UK last year – just 16 of those were in Lancashire.
Health chiefs say it seriously undermines their efforts to encourage people in Lancashire to quit because it is half the price of legitimate tobacco.
Anyone who suspects illicit tobacco is being sold, or wants 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.