Campaign launched to tackle illegal tobacco trade in Devon

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By PGStrange | Monday, February 25, 2013, 09:45

A CAMPAIGN to tackle the illegal tobacco trade in Devon and the South West is being launched today. The campaign – which highlights the dangers of smoking illegal tobacco and how children and local communities are being put at risk by the practice – comes as new figures are released, showing that 5 per cent of Devon's smokers are smoking illegal products...

The campaign is a joint initiative from Smokefree South West, HM Revenue & Customs, Trading Standards, the Police, Crimestoppers, Primary Care Trusts and local authorities as part of on-going efforts to tackle the illegal tobacco trade in the South West.

According to HMRC, in 2010 the associated revenue loss caused by illegal tobacco in the UK was £2.18bn. Today that figure has dropped to £1.86bn. However illegal tobacco remains a serious issue. Five per cent (1 in 20) of smokers in Devon smoke illegal tobacco. The figure is considerably higher in the Torbay area, with almost a third (31.8%) of smokers smoking illegal tobacco. It's estimated that the extent of illegal tobacco being smoked in the South West has an equivalent retail value of £211m.

A key aim of today's awareness campaign is to further reduce the number of people buying and being offered illegal tobacco in Devon.

Smokefree South West says that illegal tobacco brings criminals into local communities and into contact with children. As well as being unregulated, illegal tobacco is often bought at "pocket money prices", selling for less than half the tax-paid price of legally sold tobacco. This attracts younger smokers and allows those who could otherwise not afford to smoke, to maintain their habit and undermine their attempts to quit.

According to NEMS market research, in Devon, more than two thirds (67.2%) of people believe that illegal tobacco poses a real danger to children and nearly half (45.5%) of illegal tobacco smokers agree that the reduced price of illegal tobacco products allows them to smoke when they otherwise couldn't afford to.

"Significant progess"

Smokefree South West Director, Fiona Andrews said: "Significant progress has been made since February 2011 when we first launched the campaign to tackle the problem of illegal tobacco across the South West. Our collective efforts to tackle illegal tobacco are having a big effect, but more can be done.

"The only people who benefit from this trade are the criminals who don't care about what is in the packets they sell. Since illegal tobacco remains part of the range of smuggled and contraband goods traded by criminal gangs, it is vital that steady, sustained pressure continues to be applied."

"Real problem"

South West spokesman for HMRC, Bob Gaiger said: "The trade in illegal tobacco across the South West is a very real problem, one that through this initiative we are tackling, but there is more still to be done. Illegal tobacco is often the first stage in a chain of illegal trades that fund criminality.

"These criminals smuggle tobacco and cigarettes illegally into the country. Some of these will be counterfeit and will have been manufactured in unregulated environments to be sold at knock-down prices. They do not care about the impact on local businesses, your neighbourhood or your children's lives, targeting anyone and anywhere they can make money.

"Together, we are focused on breaking the hold these criminal gangs have on local communities across the South West."

"Serious criminal offence"

Devon County Council's Cabinet Member with responsibility for Trading Standards, Councillor Roger Croad, said: "Our Trading Standards team is committed to disrupting the supply of illegal tobacco across the South West and through this initiative we are able to gather intelligence to help us complete this task.

"The sale of illegal tobacco is a serious criminal offence, and poses a real threat to people's health. We will continue to do all we can to prevent illegal sales and stop criminals gaining a competitive advantage at the expense of genuine hard-working businesses and won't hesitate to use our enforcement powers against anyone we catch making sales."

The campaign will also be running a local public engagement event in Devon in March to help bring the message of the dangers illegal tobacco poses into local communities.

The sale of illegal tobacco is a criminal offence. Anyone wishing to report the selling of illegal tobacco can report anonymously online to Trading Standards at or call the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit They cannot trace your call and will never ask for your name.

To pledge your support for the campaign or for more information on illegal tobacco, go to

How to spot illegal tobacco



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