Millions of bootlegged or fake cigarettes are being traded on the black market throughout the United Kingdom to avoid paying taxes on them.
County councils in Durham, Lincolnshire, and Hertfordshire have discovered illegal cigarettes hidden in toilet cisterns, in sweet boxes, and stashed behind walls.
The sale of fake cigarettes results in more than £2 billion of tax being avoided. It also undermines the efforts of the authorities to reduce the number of people who smoke.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has urged the UK government to impose tougher penalties on those who are found guilty of trading tax-free or fake tobacco and cigarettes on the black market.
Last week, Durham County Council imposed a fine amounting to £35,000 on a 72-year-old man who was by caught after trying to sell a 20 pack of Brass cigarettes for £3.50 in a sting operation.
After a search, it was revealed that he had over 100,000 illegal cigarettes stashed away.
Similarly, a man named Karwan Salim Ahamed who is from Peterborough was ordered to do 200 hours community service and pay a fine amounting to £5,000 after it was discovered that he was using fake Facebook profiles to sell illegal cigarettes in a local group on the social media site.
The chairman of the Safer and Stronger Communities Board of the LGA, Simon Blackburn, has issued a warning against buying illegal, fake cigarettes.
He stated: “The sale of cheap, illegal tobacco by rogue traders in shops, private homes and through social media is funding organised criminal gangs and damaging legitimate traders, as well as making it easier for young people to get hooked on smoking, which undermines councils’ efforts to help people quit.”
He added: “No cigarette is good for you, but fake cigarettes contain even higher levels of cancer-causing toxins than standard cigarettes, so people should think twice about buying them.”
Typically, fake or bootlegged cigarettes are brought into the country from abroad. Even though they are made to look like UK leading brands, they usually have foreign health advisories and they have no picture warnings.