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Experts Aim To Stub Out Tobacco Smuggling

Dec 29 2007 by Marie Levy, Evening Gazette

TEESSIDERS who buy cut-price cigarettes could be smoking mud, dirt and even animal excrement.

The shocking revelation was made as experts in the region joined forces to try to stub out tobacco smuggling in the area.

Hosted by Fresh Smoke Free North East, the 200-strong delegation heard from organisations including the Department of Health and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on the extent of the problem and its serious impact on public health.

The summit revealed:

Up to one in five cigarettes and half of all loose tobacco in the North is sold at knockdown prices.

Smokers often think they are smoking genuine “duty free” products, but increasingly are being sold fake and counterfeit products.

The majority of smuggled tobacco is brought in from Russia and Eastern Europe where packets of 20 cigarettes cost as little as £1 but can be sold on in the UK for about £3.

Counterfeit tobacco – where copies of the bigger known brands are made – are even worse for smokers’ health. All cigarettes contain arsenic and heavy metals, but counterfeit cigarettes sometimes contain even higher levels of these poisonous substances, along with floor sweepings – including animal excrement, mud and dirt.

The North-east has become a hub for the illegal trade in contraband tobacco with unprecedented quantities entering the country via Tees Port as well as the region’s airports. Large hauls of tobacco have been found behind panels on vessels, within loads of logs, flowers, and even concrete blocks.

John Kinghorn, HMRC’s head of detection for the North of England, said: “Many smokers think they are getting a good deal but these cigarettes are usually cheap because they are not the genuine article.

“Counterfeit cigarettes are even worse for health than normal cigarettes and it is not easy to tell the difference.”

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh Smoke Free North East, added: “We look forward to working with a number of organisations as we develop an action plan to tackle this problem in the North-east.”

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