A CAMPAIGN to make people aware of the dangers connected to illegal tobacco was launched on Monday.

It is estimated that one in five smokers in Wiltshire now smoke illegal tobacco, with the trade equating to a £211million retail value.

The partnership between Wiltshire Council, HM Revenue & Customs, Wiltshire Police, Smokefree South West and health care trusts wants to prevent illegally imported and counterfeit tobacco from reaching the region’s streets.

“Over the last 18 months we have been working hard to reduce the illegal tobacco in the region,” said Emma Carroll, Wiltshire Council senior public protection officer.

“The majority of this is tobacco being brought in from foreign countries, with it being sold at car boot sales, discreetly in some pubs and in the odd independent shop – we wouldn’t find it on the shelves of supermarkets.”

At Trading Standards’ offices, near County Hall in Trowbridge, Ms Carroll and her colleagues have a large quantity of seized illegal tobacco from across Wiltshire, which also includes counterfeit tobacco that tends to come from the Far East.

“These kinds of products are very dangerous for people’s health as they are not regulated – in many cases the contents have just been swept off the floor of factories and we’ve seen packets containing rat droppings before,” said Rob Green, Wiltshire Council senior public protection officer.

“The big give-away for these types of products is the price but sometimes that doesn’t concern some people who are just keen to get the product as cheap as they possibly can.”

In Wiltshire, six out of 10 illegal tobacco smokers buy the products because they say they can’t afford the legal ones.

Police Inspector Lisette Harvey said: “We are behind this campaign as we know that criminal activity in these cases is not always just related to smuggling and can have sinister undertones attracting and exploiting young people and children.”

Inspector Harvey also said that criminals selling the illegal products at “pocket money prices” targets young people, getting them addicted to cigarettes at a young age.

On March 14 and 15, the partnership will have a stall in The Shires Shopping Centre, Trowbridge, showing the problems caused and also allowing people to report any suspected incidents of illegal tobacco being sold across the region.

Keith Humphries, cabinet member for public health and public protection, said: “Businesses should be aware that if illegal tobacco is being sold on their premises they are liable to a range of fines that could strip them of their livelihood.”

Anyone wishing to report the sale of illegal tobacco can do so by visiting www.stop-illegal-tobacco.

co.uk, or by calling the Crimestoppers charity anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Smuggling hits economy hard

  • HMRC figures show that illegal tobacco costs the UK economy £1.86

billion a year

  • One in five smokers in Wiltshire now smoke illegal tobacco
  • The south west trade in illegal tobacco is now the equivalent of £211million retail trade
  • Six out of 10 Wiltshire people believe that the reduced price of illegal tobacco products allows them to afford to smoke
  •  The recommended retail price for a 50g packet of Golden Virginia is £15.95, with counterfeit packets being sold in Wiltshire for £4.