The amount of black market cigarettes smoked on Bradford streets has more than doubled in only one year, claim tobacco industry investigators who raided the city’s bins to gather their evidence.
One-in-five discarded packets were for smuggled cigarettes or were fake brands manufactured for illegal sale – a 100 per cent increase on the results of a similar survey in 2011 which put the figure at 9.5 per cent.
The national cost of the underworld tobacco trade is not just £3.6 billion in tax lost to the Treasury every year, there is also the harm to health from extra-deadly ingredients found in bogus cigarettes along with very high toxin levels.
Human excrement, dead flies and asbestos were found in counterfeit fags seized across Britain by the UK Border Agency earlier this year.
The survey of empty packets was carried out in May and April when brand security firm MS Intelligence collected 12,700 packets nationwide.
While Bradford’s figure doubled, the picture was even worse in Birmingham – where one-in-three retrieved packets were found to be illegal.
China is the source of most fake cigarettes in packets copied so carefully they are almost identical to the real thing.
But it also provides cigarettes such as the “Jin Ling” brand which are simply made to be smuggled.
And this type of contraband, known as ‘whites’, is where international criminal gangs are now concentrating their efforts.
The MS report states: “Historically, the illicit market was made up of genuine brands of tobacco smuggled from lower-priced EU countries.
“Currently, there are many more counterfeits and, increasingly, illicit whites.
“Along with counterfeits, illicit whites represent the most significant threat to legitimate trade and tobacco revenues in the UK from large-scale organised criminality.”
The tobacco industry claims Government plans to insist on plain packaging for cigarettes without any complicated logos or artwork will only make things easier for the crooks and gangsters without altering smoking trends.
But Bradford councillor Val Slater (Lab, Royds) who chairs West Yorkshire Trading Standards Committee said she doubted that claim: “Personally, I can’t see the logic of that argument, because obviously the criminals are perfectly able to copy what’s out there at the moment,” Coun Slater said.
“And this doesn’t seem to be a very scientific survey, but nevertheless there is a very serious issue with illicit cigarettes and we need people to report any illegal sales.
“The loss of the tax means we all have to pay more to make up for it and the second reason is the impact on health – particularly among young people who may be tempted by these cheap cigarettes,” Coun Slater said.