ILLEGAL cigarettes and tobacco are “extremely easy to obtain” in Bradford, according to the results of an undercover investigation.

A test purchasing team, led by Will O'Reilly, a former Scotland Yard detective chief inspector, bought 37 lots of illicit products during a two-day visit to the city.

Mr O'Reilly has been conducting research for cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris International about the illicit trade across the United Kingdom and Ireland.

But any claims that the illegal tobacco market was out of control has been dismissed by policy-makers with official figures showing that the illegal market has halved in the last decade although it is said by HM Revenue and Customs to still cost the taxpayer £2.1bn a year in unpaid taxes.

Mr O’Reilly’s team made 77 purchases of illicit cigarettes in total, 42, or 55 per cent, of which, were classified as ‘illicit whites’, cigarettes smuggled into and sold in a market where they have no legal distribution.

The team bought products from 36 separate retailers in the Bradford West area, plus one online purchase.

In one Bradford convenience store, the shopkeeper used a two-way radio to speak to a colleague who then arrived from what appeared to be a basement with two packs of the illicit white ‘Fest’ that the shopkeeper then sold for £2.50 each.

The illegal products came with health warnings from a range of countries including Moldova, the Czech Republic, Russia, Poland, and Pakistan.

In his report, Mr O’Reilly said: “Considering that the constituency area targeted is approximately one third of the total Bradford city area, the test purchasers commented that they found that illicit tobacco products were extremely easy to obtain, and that the area was among the worst of all the towns and cities they have visited to date.

“The cheapest illicit whites were ‘Fest’, and ‘Minsk’, on sale from £2.50 per pack.

“This is as cheap as we have seen these for sale anywhere else in the UK, which is a reflection of the availability of illicit cigarettes in Bradford.

“Other illicit whites included ‘NZ’ purchased for £3, ‘Jin Ling’ purchased from £3.50 per pack, and ‘Richman’, also for £3.50 per pack.”

Commenting on the report’s findings, Councillor Val Slater, deputy leader of Bradford Council and chairman of West Yorkshire Trading Standards, said: “We take the devastating impact of smoking tobacco seriously and will not stand for anyone selling illegal tobacco in our communities.

“Children and young smokers are often targeted by people who sell illegal cigarettes, making it even easier for young people to get hooked as those making the money do not care who they sell to.

“Illegal tobacco is not a victimless crime and we are working hard with West Yorkshire Trading Standards and HM Revenue and Customs and Border Force to reduce the harm caused to neighbourhoods and local communities.

“As part of the Keep It Out campaign, if you know where illegal tobacco is being sold, you should get in touch and report it.

“We’re committed to helping create a smoke free generation by 2025 and, by tackling the sale of illegal tobacco, we’re making it harder for young people to ever start smoking in the first place.”

Andrea Crossfield, a spokesman for the Illicit Tobacco Partnership, which works across Bradford and the rest of West Yorkshire, said the illegal tobacco market had halved since 2000, thanks to effective actions including tougher sanctions on tobacco companies themselves.

“Tobacco companies sell a product that kills half of lifelong smokers, so it is ironic to see them issuing warnings about the impact of illegal tobacco,” she said.

"Tobacco companies want people to think the market is flooded with illegal cigarettes so they can attack really effective policies like standardised tobacco packaging which will stop kids starting to smoke.

“But most smokers do not buy illegal tobacco and we are very concerned to see the industry painting this as a normal activity."

Scott Crosby, regional tobacco control policy manager for Yorkshire and the Humber, said that between 2012 and 2014, smoking had killed 2,336 people prematurely in Bradford.

“All tobacco – whether it is legal or illegal - contains a deadly mix of 5000 chemicals and causes 16 different types of cancer,” he said.

“The tobacco companies would like us to believe that illegal tobacco is out of control, but smoking has fallen by nearly a third in the last decade and the illegal tobacco market nationally has halved.

“Tobacco companies themselves have been accused of fuelling smuggling by the Public Accounts Committee by massively oversupplying known smuggling routes, with one large tobacco company fined for breaching smuggling laws in 2014.”