You may think that illegal tobacco is harmless.   If you smoke, it’s simply a cheap source of tobacco. If you don’t smoke, you probably don’t think it affects you, or your family.

More than one in five (22%) of smokers in Torbay use illegal tobacco, but most probably aren’t aware that illegal tobacco is directly linked to serious organised crime such as drug trafficking, and underpins an underground economy worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Smuggled into Torbay by organised gangs, young people and vulnerable adults are often the ones most at risk. By visiting ‘fag houses’ to buy their cheap tobacco, these people put themselves in risky situations with people who might also be selling illegal alcohol, drugs and stolen goods.

Illegal tobacco also makes it easier for children in Torbay to smoke. This is because it’s affordable, sold at pocket money prices, and often up to half the price of legal duty paid tobacco.

Criminals selling cheap illegal tobacco don’t care if your son or daughter is under age.

Cllr Chris Lewis, Executive Lead for Health and Wellbeing, said: “We know more than eight out of ten smokers start before the age of 19. By selling tobacco to children as young as twelve or thirteen, these criminals are creating an addiction that could last a lifetime, cost thousands of pounds and result in an early death, as one in two long-term smokers die as a result of using tobacco products.

“This isn’t a problem that is happening somewhere else; it’s happening in Torbay, on our high streets, in our parks and in our local communities. This is why Torbay Council is working closely with local police, Trading Standards, HMRC and Smokefree South West to clamp down on this serious crime.”

Working together, the partnership has been out talking to people in the heart of our local community about the negative impact of illegal tobacco, encouraging the public to pass on information, anonymously if they prefer, about illegal tobacco trading in their area.

Some might argue the high price of tobacco justifies the illegal trade, but the UK has high tobacco prices for a reason and it isn’t just about raising money for Government. We know that the higher the price, the more smokers will try to cut down and to stop. The black market takes billions of pounds away from the treasury each year, money that I’m sure we would all rather see spent improving our schools and hospitals. But perhaps even more importantly, it means that smokers don’t feel the financial pinch that can trigger them to take that life-saving step and decide to quit now while they are ahead.

The four multinationals which manufacture tobacco are amongst the most profitable consumer operations in the world. They have claimed that the introduction of plain standard packaging for tobacco will increase the amount of illegal tobacco on our streets by making it harder to detect, however independent evidence shows this simply isn’t true. An All Party Parliamentary Group report in 2013 , HMRC and the Australian Government , who have already introduced plain packaging, have shown this to be false.

The switch over to toned down standard packs for tobacco excites me and others in the world of public health because after their introduction in Australia, smoking rates have fallen by a record 15.2% decline between 2010 and 2013 . A number of factors will have contributed to this success, including tax rises, bans on retail displays and media campaigns, but the introduction of standard packaging in year three of the survey period is a major contributor to the fastest ever drop in smoking rates in Australia since the survey began in 1991.

Data from the Australian Treasury shows a 3.4% fall in tobacco sales by volume in the first year following the introduction of standardised packs . If that was mirrored in Torbay, estimates from Public Health England predict that total savings to local smokers would be around £1.4 million. With tobacco such a major cause of local health inequalities – the greatest harm being suffered by the most disadvantaged – the benefits would be most felt in areas of greater social deprivation; not only reducing the devastating harm caused by smoking and boosting health improvement, but also increasing families’ disposable income. This is money that could be spent on other things providing a real boost to our local Torbay economy.

Local campaigns like the one we are running with Smokefree South West have achieved great success in raising awareness of the dangers of illegal tobacco and providing good factual information. Research shows that 37% of people in Torbay would be very likely to report suspicions about someone selling illegal tobacco, but this number rises to 72% if they thought it was being sold to kids. Over half of people in Torbay feel that something should be done to prevent the sale of illegal tobacco .

So, now is your chance. We are working in partnership with other agencies to take action to combat the criminals pedalling illegal tobacco, but our most valuable partner has to be you, the public. Please keep your eyes peeled and report any illegal tobacco to the authorities. In doing so you will be helping to reduce crime in your neighbourhood and protect your children from the dangers of easy access to tobacco.

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. This takes just a few minutes; they cannot trace your call and will never ask for your name.


For more information, interview opportunities and images, please contact or call 0117 944 1415.

Notes to Editors

What is illegal tobacco?

Brief definitions of some commonly used terms concerning illegal supply are:

  • Smuggling –occurs where legitimately manufactured tobacco products are diverted, usually when in the wholesale distribution chain, evading payment of the tax.
  • Bootlegging - a variant of smuggling: tobacco products are purchased in a country with a low level of taxation and illegally brought into countries with higher rates of taxation.
  • Non-UK brands (‘Cheap Whites’) –brands manufactured overseas and smuggled into the UK. Brands include Raquel, Richman and Jin Ling.
  • Counterfeiting – involves the illegal manufacture of tobacco products, often abroad but sometimes in the UK to pass as UK brands avoiding all tax.
  • EU Duty Paid Goods –. There are no limits on the amount of duty and / or tax paid tobacco goods you can bring into the UK from the EU, as long as they are for your own use and not to be sold or exchanged as a form of payment. Travellers from the South West bringing tobacco and cigarettes into the UK from the EU are reminded that Minimum Indicative Levels (MILs) changed on 1 October 2011, aligning the UK with levels elsewhere in Europe. Since that date, you are more likely to be asked questions at the frontier if you have more than 800 cigarettes and 1 kg of hand-rolling tobacco.

What should you look out for when it comes to illegal tobacco being sold?

Illegal tobacco can sometimes be hard to spot, but if you come across anyone selling tobacco products look out for the following

  • Price less than £3.50 for 20 cigarettes or under £7 for 50g of hand rolling tobacco.
  • Missing fiscal mark.
  • No health warning.
  • Foreign language on packs – specifically the health warning.
  • Unfamiliar brands – never heard of it before? Check it out.
  • Printing errors on the pack.
  • Unusual taste and smell.

Illegal Tobacco and plain standard packaging

There is no evidence that standard packaging will bolster the illegal tobacco trade as some tobacco multinationals suggest. Branded tobacco packaging is no obstacle to counterfeiters and standard packs would carry the same covert markings currently used to distinguish legal from illegal tobacco products. Legislation which ensures tobacco packaging is free from attractive designs will, above all else, help to discourage children from starting to smoke.

Smokefree South West

Smokefree South West was established in 2009 to help the local authorities across the region take a co-ordinated, comprehensive and evidence-based approach to reducing the harm caused by tobacco.

Trading Standards

Trading Standards can help educate Businesses and staff who may be targeted by criminals. The business education toolkit is available online which can be sampled at


HMRC has had a national strategy in place to tackle tobacco smuggling since 2000. In that time it has seized nearly 22.5 billion smuggled cigarettes with a value of just over £5.2 billion in legitimate lost sales and seized over 3747 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco. Over 3700 people have been successfully prosecuted; and almost £53.4 million worth of confiscation orders have been issue to recover the proceeds of crime.

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