EDINBURGH is being flooded with fake fags by organised Eastern European crime gangs, a former top cop has warned.
Retired Scotland Yard DCI Will O’Reilly found the illicit trade in imported tax-free contraband “easy to access” during a major undercover surveillance operation.
He found bogus tobacco on sale in numerous places around the city, including a car wash, a hairdressers and various pubs and shops in Gorgie, Dalry and Easter Road.
As a result of the operation, a number of people have now been reported to Trading Standards.
Mr O’Reilly said: “While historically it’s often been Chinese gangs who were associated with illicit cigarettes, it now seems to be moving more into the hands of Eastern Europeans, and there is also evidence Irish Republican groups are involved in smuggling black market cigarettes into Scotland.”
He carried out his three-day operation in September for cigarette giant Philip Morris, which has argued that the introduction of plain packaging, which the Scottish Government has committed to introducing legislation on in 2014-15, will make the counterfeiters’ job even easier.
Tests on illegal cigarettes have revealed that they often include extremely harmful substances, such as faeces, asbestos, mould and dead flies.
In July, Trading Standards bosses revealed 21,000 fake cigarettes and 340 pouches of illegal tobacco were seized in Edinburgh in the 2012-13 period.
Customs officials have warned that the illegal sales, which are thought to cost the Treasury around £1 billion a year in lost tax revenue, have a “devastating effect on local retailers”.
However, anti-smoking campaigners have said there is “no credible evidence” that the removal of branding will make counterfeiting simpler.
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of ASH Scotland, said: “Standard packs will be as sophisticated as current packaging – why would they make a difference to forgers who can easily copy the branded packs?”