A mystery shopping operation carried out by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) in Bolton this summer has revealed the extent of the illicit tobacco trade in the area, with almost two out of three stores visited found to be selling illegal tobacco.
The key findings were:
- 23 out of the 37 stores (62%) visited were found to be selling illegal tobacco.
- A number of the retailers sold counterfeit JTI tobacco products.
- Counterfeit 50g packs of hand rolling tobacco were on sale from £4.00 (versus around £22.00 for genuine products).
- The illegal products purchased were all in branded packaging.
Details of the stores selling illegal tobacco have been passed onto Trading Standards.
The UK government estimates that illegal tobacco makes up around 15% of the cigarette market and 28% of the hand rolling tobacco market in the UK. This has resulted in £2.5bn of lost tax revenue in 2016/7, with a total revenue loss of £43.5bn since 2000/1.
Dominated globally by organised criminals, the illicit trade damages legitimate business and makes it easier for young people to get hold of tobacco products.
Steve Wilkins, JTI’s Anti-Illegal Trade Operations Director and former Detective Chief Superintendent, said: “Smokers buying cheap fake cigarettes and tobacco on the streets of Bolton may be getting more than they bargain for as fake imitations have been found to contain asbestos, mould, dust, dead flies, rat droppings and even human excrement.”
“The vast majority of retailers are the ‘Gatekeepers’ for age-restricted products and they help to ensure that children do not get hold of tobacco products. Unfortunately, the criminals who sell illegal tobacco within our communities do not operate a ‘No ID No Sale’ policy and will sell to all-comers, including children.”
“Illegal tobacco is damaging our local community, funding organised crime and undermining local businesses. We all have a role to play to combat the issue and JTI calls on retailers and members of the public to join our “Don’t Be Complicit In Illicit” campaign and help rid the streets of illegal tobacco. Anyone with information about this type of crime should visit www.jtiadvance.co.uk/DontBeComplicit or contact Trading Standards on 03454 04 05 06.”
1Measuring tax gaps 2018 edition. Tax gap estimates for 2016-17. HMRC, June 2018
 Measuring tax gaps 2018 edition. Tax gap estimates for 2016-17. HMRC, June 2018