One in five venues found with illegal cigarettes

Illegal cigarettes are widely available in the Capital. Picture: TSPL
Illegal cigarettes are widely available in the Capital. Picture: TSPL
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ILLEGAL cigarettes were bought from one in five venues across the Capital as part of an undercover sting.

The ease with which cheap tobacco is available was unearthed in a study commissioned by industry giant Japan Tobacco International (JTI).

They targeted 27 venues in the city in a series of test purchasing raids and found imported tax-free contraband being sold anywhere from pubs to car washes.

The harmful tobacco – some of which has previously been found to contain lethal chemicals and rat droppings – is being sold for as little as £3.50 a pack.

Lothian Tory MSP Gavin Brown said the counterfeit cigarettes were not only an even greater health risk than regular smoking, they helped fund organised crime and ripped off the taxpayer.

He said: “They are wrong on every level. First and foremost you just don’t know what’s in them. You don’t know where they are made, you don’t know if things have been added to them, you don’t know where they’re stored and how they are transported.

“Obviously there’s a health risk with cigarettes anyway but I think with counterfeit cigarettes there is potentially a far greater health risk and a lot of unknowns in there.

“The second concern is that it is criminal activity that is making the money and not your legitimate shopkeepers. You have got guys who are running shops, working all hours, paying business rates and contributing to the economy who are losing out and unlicensed criminal activity is the beneficiary.”

The recent operation found contraband cigarettes, brought into Scotland from other markets where they are sold more cheaply, and so-called “illicit whites” that are manufactured purely for smuggling.

Brands including Marlboro can be purchased for as little as £4 a packet in Edinburgh – roughly half the retail price. The illicit whites, Jin Ling, were being offered for just £3.50.

In November last year, the News reported how organised Eastern European crime gangs and Irish Republican groups were being blamed for the influx. In total, Trading Standards bosses revealed 21,000 fake cigarettes and 340 pouches of illegal tobacco were seized in Edinburgh in just a year.

Retired Scotland Yard DCI Will O’Reilly also found bogus tobacco on sale in numerous places around the city, including a hairdressers and various pubs and shops in Gorgie, Dalry and Leith. More than a quarter of smokers in Scotland said they were aware of these products on sale but only eight per cent reported it, according to the study by Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association.

JTI spokesman Mark Yexley said: “The impact of the illicit trade in tobacco on society is far reaching and members of the public, retailers, suppliers and the Government all have a role to play to combat the issue.

“Criminals who deal in illegal tobacco will sell to all-comers, including children. JTI fully supports any efforts to rid our streets of illegal tobacco and stop criminals infiltrating our communities.”

Customs officials also 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”.

An HMRC spokesman said: “Low-cost tobacco products can often seem very attractive to people, lured into buying them at what seem like bargain prices.

“The truth is these goods have been smuggled, often by organised crime gangs, and sales are unlicensed and unregulated.”