Illegal cigarette sales increased by almost half in last year

Fake cigarettes for sale on the Edinburgh streets. Picture: Gavin Rodgers/Pixel 8000 Ltd.
Fake cigarettes for sale on the Edinburgh streets. Picture: Gavin Rodgers/Pixel 8000 Ltd.
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THE number of potentially dangerous illegal cigarettes ­being sold in Scotland has ­increased by almost half in the last year, according to a new report.

The report shows that 10 out of every 100 packets of cigarettes or loose tobacco sold in 2012 are illegal products designed to avoid paying tax, a rise from 7 in 10 in 2011.

Produced by industry investigators, the report urges Chancellor George Osborne not to raise tobacco duties to help plug the gap in the public finances as the move would encourage even greater levels of tobacco smuggling across UK borders. It estimates that the problem of tax avoidance involving illicit tobacco products will already cost the Exchequer £5 billion in the next two years.

The report also outlines the danger of illegal tobacco products – which can carry harmful toxins – to young smokers. A survey of under-16s in Angus earlier this year by the Scottish Tobacco Control Alliance revealed that at least half knew where to buy cheap tobacco.

Ian Howell, UK tax and brand manager for the tobacco manufacturer JTI, said that many of the products are so-called “whites” , which can ­carry high levels of lead.

Howell said: “While there is no such thing as a cigarette that is good for you, the ones made outside the strict regulations on the tobacco industry can be very dangerous.”

Many of the illegally sold tobacco products are now being shipped in by criminal gangs as loose tobacco, he added. It is then separately packaged with fake tax and health labels added.

Currently, up to 90 per cent of legally sold tobacco products is duty paid to the ­Exchequer. Tobacco manufacturers claims there is a direct link between tobacco duty and the rise in illegal sales.