Concern that “lung-burning” fake fags containing toenails and excrement are being sold to children as young as 12 has sparked a probe by youth workers into counterfeit tobacco peddling in the Capital.
NHS Lothian will team up with Edinburgh-based welfare group Fast Forward to trace the extent of illicit tobacco consumption by young people aged 12 to 24. The investigation comes as Trading Standards bosses revealed 21,000 fake cigarettes and 340 pouches of illegal tobacco were seized in the city in the 2012-13 period.
Recent data suggests consumption of counterfeit cigarettes has more than doubled in some areas of the country, although national figures from HMRC indicate supplies have fallen in the last ten years.
Welfare leaders said the cigarettes had been found to contain extremely harmful ingredients, such as faeces, asbestos, mould and dead flies.
Colin Lumsdaine, senior health promotion specialist at NHS Lothian, said: “We want to get a better understanding of young people’s knowledge of and use of illicit or counterfeit tobacco products to help us shape our smoking prevention work.
“Research from other parts of the UK shows that illicit and counterfeit tobacco results in young people starting to smoke and smoking more due to the lower prices.
“We’ve approached Fast Forward to help us with this work, as they have access to an excellent network of young people’s groups across Lothian.”
News of the investigation was welcomed by tobacco harm reduction organisations, who said they had heard of illegal products being sold regularly from ice cream vans, at street markets and train stations.
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of Edinburgh-based charity ASH Scotland, said: “We agree that illicit tobacco is a problem because it undermines sensible restrictions on tobacco sales.”
Councillor Cammy Day, community safety leader, said: “Counterfeit tobacco is potentially dangerous. The contents may have been previously discarded due to, for example, the excessive use of pesticides across the tobacco crop, or it may be that the counterfeit packet contains unclean tobacco which has been simply swept up from the factory floor. This is often the work of unscrupulous organised criminals.
“We work closely with our partners to identify and seize illicit products.
“We would urge anyone who suspects that the tobacco they have purchased is counterfeit to report this to us on 0131-529 3030 or e-mail email@example.com.”
Managers at NHS Lothian and Fast Forward said the results of their investigation should be known later this year.