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Arsenic and lead found in illegal tobacco

Sean O’Riordan

Cigarettes containing high levels of asbestos, lead, arsenic, traces of rat poison and human excrement are flooding Ireland as dissidents and highly organised crime gangs make vast profits buying them for as little as 20c a packet.(which is more than Big T makes them for).

The mark-up is huge, with a packet of 20 of what are known as ‘illegal whites’ selling on the streets for anything between €4 and €6.

The illegal whites are cigarettes with fictional brand names such as Excellence, Palace, President, CK, Gin, Ling, and M&G and are being manufactured in the United Arab Emirates, China, and Eastern Europe.

An operation carried out by former policemen in Cork in recent days showed the city awash with the illegal whites which were purchased from Asian, Irish, and Nigerian people. The team of four, which travelled from Britain, spent just a few hours walking around the city talking to people on the street before being able to carry out a number of purchases from different sellers, which included one shop in the city centre. The Irish Examiner accompanied the team on the operation.

They were led by former Garda Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Donohoe and ex-Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Inspector Will O’Reilly. They have been working on behalf of Philip Morris International — which manufactures such brands as Marlboro and L&M — to get a snapshot of the rapidly growing illegal market.

Mr Donohoe said the team carried out test purchases in a number of other areas in the country in recent months and determined that 70%- 80% of all the illegal tobacco they have uncovered is counterfeit (hence 20-30% were genuine smuggled product showing the tobacco companies deliberately do not control their General Cargo supply chains)

and potentially very dangerous to people’s health (just like the real thing) . The remaining tobacco purchased was contraband — genuine brands of cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco smuggled into the country without duty being paid. The former senior garda said Irish Customs believes the tax loss to the exchequer per year is around €250m, but Grant Thornton has put it as high as €500m.

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