Campaign aims to smoke out illegal tobacco

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A CRACKDOWN on the illegal tobacco trade and the sale of cigarettes to children will begin across West Yorkshire and York today.

More than a third of smokers in the area have been offered illegal tobacco while 17 per cent admit to buying it, according to a survey published at the start of the ‘Keep it Out’ campaign.

Enforcement measures will be accompanied by adverts, posters and the launch of a new website in a joint effort by West Yorkshire Trading Standards and the area’s six councils.

Illegal tobacco and under-age smoking are seen as connected issues because the sale of smuggled or counterfeit products gives young people a route to access tobacco.

In addition to the impact on health, the authorities also have concerns about the use of money from illegal tobacco sales being used to support other criminal activity.

Paul Butcher, Calderdale Council’s director of public health, said: “Smoking is responsible for 360 premature deaths a year in Calderdale.

“We know that eight out of ten smokers regret starting, so we want to put a stop to the illegal cigarette trade which targets children and may encourage them to take up smoking.

“While all smoking kills half of all long term smokers, illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to smoke, and makes it harder for adults to give up.”

Efforts to tackle illegal tobacco sales have had some success with one in ten cigarettes now thought to come from illegal sources compared to one in five in 2000.

There is also growing public awareness of the problem with six out of ten people questioned in the survey describing it as an important issue for their community and 85 per cent worried about young people getting hold of tobacco.

Coun Tracey Simpson-Laing, cabinet member for homes and safer communities on York Council, said: “Children and young smokers are often targeted by people who sell illegal cigarettes, making it even easier for them to get hooked on smoking.

“The people making money out of this do not care who they sell to.

“This campaign is about raising awareness that illegal tobacco is not a victimless crime but harms neighbourhoods and brings crime into local communities.

“The smuggling of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco is also a key business for organised criminal gangs who often use the proceeds of this crime to fund the smuggling of drugs.

“We are ready to respond to any intelligence we receive.

“If you don’t want local children to smoke, and you know where illegal tobacco is being sold, we would encourage you to call Crimestoppers in complete anonymity.”

Illegal tobacco is often sold at less than half the price of legitimate products with sales taking place in pubs and clubs, so-called ‘fag houses’ and even on the street.

Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones, York Council’s director of health and wellbeing, said: “We know that most smokers want to give up smoking but their quit attempts are really undermined if somebody offers them a cheap supply of tobacco.

“It’s also really worrying that children are being targeted by unscrupulous dealers.