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Hull City Council

Tobacco fuelled crime

Police boat

Not all cigarettes are sold legally in the UK. There are big profits to be made by criminals who bring cigarettes and tobacco into the country to avoid the high tax and sell them cheaply from homes, pubs, car boot sales, workplaces etc.

These illegal (illicit) cigarettes fall into three groups:

  • Counterfeit - Fake cigarettes/tobacco that look like the genuine brand. The packaging may have poor print quality, different size lettering or have health warnings and pictures missing.
  • Smuggled - Brands not available in shops in the UK. These products are made abroad and smuggled into the UK. Brands include Jin Ling, Raquel, Richman and Bon.
  • Bootlegged - UK brands of cigarettes that are purchased abroad, brought into the UK and sold. They may have foreign health warnings, no pictorial messages and no UK DUTY PAID mark.

How big is the problem?

This had been a growing problem through to the late 1990's. At its peak it was estimated that as many as 1 in 5 of all cigarettes smoked in the UK had been sold illegally. Since then initiatives implemented by enforcement agencies has helped to reduce the proportion of illegal sales to around 11% of the UK market.

This is generally the trend throughout the UK, however in some areas of the country, including Hull, sales of illicit products are still rising.

During 2011, joint enforcement action with HM Revenue & Customs in Hull recovered over 140,000 illicit cigarettes and 70kg of hand rolling tobacco.

Child labour

Why is it such an issue?

  • Illicit tobacco sellers don't care who they sell to. Their only interest is making money –often targeting children attracted by the cheap prices and availability.
  • Illicit tobacco is often linked to organised crime - traders may deal in drugs, alcohol and money laundering.
  • Genuine retailers can't compete with cheaper prices of illicit tobacco.

Is illicit tobacco more harmful to health?

Smoking any tobacco is harmful to health. However illicit cigarettes are often produced without regulation over content or quality making them susceptible to contamination.

How would I recognise illegal tobacco?

Genuine, legal packets of cigarettes or tobacco will have the following messages:

  1. UK DUTY PAID in capital letters.
  2. "Smoking seriously harms you and others around you" or "Smoking kills" on the front of the packet.
  3. A picture message on the back of the packet.

To report illegal sales of cigarettes:

Telephone Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or follow this link to the national Crime Stoppers site:

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