FAKE cigarettes sold over the counter in Edinburgh are being used to fuel organised crime across the globe, a former top detective has warned.
Illicit cigarettes currently make up around 13 per cent of the market in the UK, HMRC figures show – a six-year high.
Retired Scotland Yard DCI Will O’Reilly said there were “a number of consequences” to the illicit trade, which often operates secretly within otherwise legitimate businesses.
And the News found bogus tobacco freely available at shops, DVD stores, pubs and homes across the Capital when we accompanied him on an undercover exercise earlier this month.
As well as corner shops and sellers based in pubs, Facebook was being widely utilised to flog illegal tobacco shipped in from Poland and beyond.
Mr O’Reilly said the black market trade cost taxpayers billions in lost revenue, adding: “That shortfall has got to be made up somehow. And that costs every one of us.”
HMRC estimates the illicit tobacco trade costs the taxpayer £2.4 billion every year. But lost cash isn’t the only drawback, according to Mr O’Reilly.
He said: “You’ve then got the fact that there’s organised crime involvement. [Fake cigarettes] are hauled in by organised crime [gangs] and profits are reinvested in their criminal enterprises.
“As a detective, I saw towards the end of my service that people were turning away from perhaps more risky enterprises like drug smuggling, and into smuggling cigarettes because the profit margins are great and the risk is smaller.
“It’s over a million pounds in profit for every container they can get in. Tentacles of organised crime are all over this. You’ve also got the fact that the retailers that sell it are irresponsible. My guys often join queues of kids buying single cigarettes with their pocket money. They’ve got no qualms about under-age sales.”
He said independent tests carried out on fake cigarettes found many contain “all sorts of rubbish”, including rat droppings, human faeces, dead flies and floor sweepings.
“There are additional health risks with some of these products,” he said. “Not only in the ingredients, but also [because] they don’t contain any fire retardant measures.
“The fire brigade have put down hundreds of house fires to people smoking these illicit cigarettes because they don’t go out like a normal cigarette must do now if it’s left unattended.”
Mr O’Reilly’s two-day undercover operation, carried out with five other colleagues on behalf of cigarette giant Philip Morris, found dozens of shops, pubs and sellers across Edinburgh flogging fake fags.
All details have now been passed on to the police and trading standards, who will decide if further action needs to be taken.