New research commissioned by the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Smoking and Tobacco Alliance has highlighted the negative impact of illegal cigarettes on local communities.
The study found that two in five Nottingham and Nottinghamshire residents surveyed feel that illegal tobacco is a problem in their community, while 66% are worried about counterfeit cigarettes being sold to children and young people.
Separate data from local trading standards officers has revealed the shocking financial gains made by sellers of illegal tobacco. From April to September this year, Nottinghamshire County Council’s trading standards team recovered around 142,000 illicit cigarettes (not including rolling tobacco), with an estimated street value of £71,000. In the same period, they seized 6,825 illegal vapes with a street value of around £75,000.
In the six months to September, Nottingham City Council seized more than 4,000 cigarettes with an estimated street value of £14,409, and over 4,930 vapes and about 17 test purchases of illegal tobacco and vapes since April 23 to test for underage sales. After receiving complaints about underage sales, Nottingham City Council’s trading standards team recently carried out inspections and seized more than 500 illegal vapes from a shop in Hyson Green.
Following the publication of these shocking statistics, the alliance is renewing its efforts to urge more individuals and businesses to come forward and report organisations that sell fake tobacco. In July this year, the government introduced new powers that could see penalties of up to £10,000 for any businesses and individuals who sell illicit tobacco products in a move to tackle this illegal market and reduce tobacco duty fraud.
The publication of the statistics comes after the alliance relaunched its strategy to work towards eliminating smoking and tobacco-related harm and creating a smokefree generation for Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. Bringing together a wide spectrum of partner organisations, including Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council, it was established earlier this year to encourage smokers to quit and to highlight the support needed to help prevent young people from starting to smoke in the first instance.
Councillor John Cottee, Cabinet Member for Communities at Nottinghamshire County Council, said:
“This research highlights the devastating harm caused by illegal tobacco in local communities. It damages local businesses as they’re being undercut by unscrupulous criminals selling the products at below-market prices, which discourages people from quitting smoking and makes tobacco more accessible and affordable for children and young adults.
“Our Trading Standards team will continue to work closely with the alliance to stamp out these unwanted practices on our way to creating a healthier, smokefree Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.”
Councillor Linda Woodings, Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care and Health at Nottingham City Council, said:
“We are calling on businesses and the general public to help us eradicate this damaging illegal trade, which sells harmful and toxic products containing unregulated ingredients. There are several signs of fake tobacco, including brightly coloured or discoloured cigarette packaging rather than the usual plain olive packaging, small pack sizes containing fewer than the stipulated minimum 20 cigarettes, and spelling mistakes and unfamiliar logos on the packet. Shopkeepers may also store cigarettes in unusual places away from the till, which is another tell-tale sign that they are fake.
“These criminals don’t care who they sell illicit tobacco to and the harms it could cause. This is why we need assistance from law-abiding business owners and individuals to bring these criminals to justice and tackle this cancer at the heart of the tobacco industry.”
The alliance wants people in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire to be alert to possible signs of tobacco or vapes being sold illegally. If you see illegal tobacco being sold, you can report this to local trading standards teams through the Citizens Advice Consumer Service at: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/get-more-help/report-to-trading-standards/
In October the government launched an eight-week, UK-wide consultation that outlined plans to make it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products. The proposals also include the introduction of further regulations to prevent the sale and promotion of vapes to children.
The alliance supports these proposals, as well as the government’s pledge to take a strong approach to the enforcement of these rules. The proposed enforcement policy includes:
- plans to introduce on-the-spot fines for rogue retailers who sell tobacco products or vapes to underage people in England and Wales (ministers believe that separate enforcement regimes in place in Northern Ireland and Scotland are already sufficiently robust). The current penalty regime in England requires local authorities to prosecute the individual or business in question and for the individual or business to be convicted in a magistrates’ court. Trading standards officers say this time-consuming court procedure limits their ability to issue fines and creates a significant gap in their operational capabilities
- the provision of £30 million of additional funding per year (from April 2024) to support enforcement agencies such as trading standards, Border Force and HMRC to implement and enforce the law (including enforcement of underage sales).
- enhancement of online age verification to stop underage sales of tobacco products and vapes online
- HMRC and Border Force’s publication of an updated Illicit Tobacco Strategy, which will:
- set out plans to target illegal activity at all stages of the supply chain to stamp out opportunities for criminals in light of the new rules
- establish a multi-agency Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, led by HMRC and Border Force, to oversee future evolution of our illicit tobacco strategy