A new campaign to stamp out illegal tobacco across the capital is being backed by Croydon Council.
The drive, launched by London Councils, London Trading Standards and health professionals across the capital, aims to improve the public’s understanding of the different types of illegal tobacco and the consequences of supporting the trade.
Croydon’s trading standards team has a strong reputation for stamping down on the illegal trade. In addition to ongoing inspection exercises, the team enjoyed great success when it raided and closed down a £500,000 counterfeit-tobacco factory in 2015.
Six trading standards officers led an operation that raided the manufacturing site in New Addington. They found approximately 4,600 50g packets of fake Golden Virginia Hand Rolling Tobacco, with an approximate street value of £85,000, packed and ready for delivery.
The illegal factory was fully equipped to make large quantities of fake tobacco. The officers found instructions and a recipe guide, equipment to steam and mix the raw tobacco leaf, heavy equipment to remove the leaf from the stalk, to shred it and to pack and seal it. Significant quantities of raw, and part-processed, tobacco leaf, aromas and additives, security labels, empty packet sleeves and outers were also found.
The criminal gang responsible had produced more than 13,000 packets with a street value in the region of £250,000, and it was estimated that there was sufficient material on site to make a further £250,000-worth of fakes.
London-wide it is estimated that criminal networks are making more than £100m a year from the trade, with a third of London smokers saying they were offered illegal tobacco in the past year.
The products are unregulated, untaxed and often sold under-the-counter, which means they are available at ‘pocket money prices’, making it easier for children to buy them and to start smoking from a young age.
Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice
“Our team has had great results in tackling the problem of fake tobacco in Croydon. They work hard to advise businesses of their responsibilities, and take robust action to identify criminals who flout the law and bring them before the courts.
“Quite apart from the fact the low price can prove an inducement to youngsters to start smoking, fake tobacco products have been found to contain a cocktail of toxic substances, some of which are known to cause cancer.
“The risks involved far outweigh what small advantage might be gained by buying fake cigarettes in preference to the more expensive legitimate brands – not that either does you any good.”
Telltale signs that tobacco goods might be illegal include:
- packets with foreign language health warnings;
- packets with no picture health warnings;
- being much cheaper than normal cigarettes (ie, £3.50 to £5.00 per pack of 20);
- unusual or foreign brand names, such as Jin Ling – or others from Russia and the Far East; or
- being sold in unusual locations, such as pubs, private houses, ice cream vans and burger vans.
Residents who see any tobacco products that match the description above, or who have information which may be useful, are advised to call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 040506, report it online at www.londontradingstandards.org.uk/report-consumer-crime or email firstname.lastname@example.org.