Anyone found guilty of selling smuggled or fake tobacco will face penalties from the police, local authorities and HMRC, such as fines, tax bills, removal of alcohol licences, shop closures or prison sentences.
Thanks to residents reporting, partners have been cracking down on retailers across the region who sell illegal tobacco to children, getting them hooked, and adults who would otherwise quit an expensive and lethal habit.
Between April and September this year, the Keep It Out campaign, run across the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester, generated 160 reports of illegal tobacco being sold.
Covert test purchasing at 165 premises discovered 109 premises selling illegal tobacco. Raids seized more than 280,000 illegal cigarettes and more than 92kg of illegal hand-rolling tobacco.
This enforcement activity comes after a survey by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership revealed nearly half (45 per cent) of people who buy illicit tobacco purchase it from shops, an increase from 31 per cent in 2018.
The Keep It Out campaign is part of a regional multi-agency programme to reduce the supply of and demand for illegal tobacco, highlighting the true cost of these “cheap” products and encouraging people to report sales.
It sits alongside the national Operation CeCe which aims to disrupt every aspect of the illegal tobacco market, from frontline retailers to global organised crime groups who drive the illicit trade, smuggling tobacco internationally.
Andrea Crossfield, making smoking history lead at Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “The crackdown on illegal tobacco is part of Greater Manchester’s wider efforts to cut smoking rates and make smoking history for future generations. All tobacco kills, but illegal tobacco enables underage kids to start smoking, as people who sell illegal tobacco will sell to kids, and, through cheaper prices, prevents smokers from quitting a habit that kills one in two who do it. It also has wider harm for our communities as those who sell it are at the end of a chain of crime, drugs and trafficking.
“We are encouraging residents and responsible businesses across Greater Manchester to report illegal tobacco sales, often from ‘under the counter’ in local shops, so enforcement teams can take more products off the street. It is simply not acceptable to buy or sell illegal tobacco products.”
Greater Manchester research shows that three quarters (72 per cent) of retailers believe illicit tobacco has an impact on their business or the wider area. However, a third of retailers did not know how many smokers would die as a result of their habit.
Kate Pike, Trading Standards’ North West lead on tobacco, said: “We can reassure retailers that we act on every report of illegal tobacco sales, and support other measures to reduce the market such as the introduction of a tobacco licence and increasing the age of sale to 21.
“Tobacco companies often use illegal tobacco as the counter argument to increasing tougher measures for all tobacco sales but in Britain, the market share of illicit tobacco has declined since 2000 despite all the changes to how tobacco is sold. We would ask shopkeepers to consider whether tobacco companies have their best interests at heart by pressing them to maximise investment in tobacco despite it being a declining, low-profit sector for them. And a product that will kill one in two customers, when used as intended by manufacturers.
“The size of the illicit market is determined principally by law enforcement. That’s why it’s so important we work together to keep it out.”
The sale of illegal tobacco can be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers 0800 555 111 or at keep-it-out.co.uk.
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here and viewing our offers.