Criminals target pubs and clubs to peddle illegal tobacco

Trading Standards are warning licensees and pub-goers to be on-the-look-out for criminals selling smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. While most licence holders would not knowingly allow criminal activity to take place on their premises, the call for vigilance follows recent research in Banbury and Cowley revealing that nearly half (43%) of illegal tobacco customers use pubs and clubs as their main source of supply.

Cheap illegal tobacco is attractive to some smokers because it is often sold at half the price of the legal equivalent but its availability helps children to start smoking, brings communities into contact with organised criminals and undermines legitimate local businesses. In October HMRC released figures showing illegal tobacco made up 15% of all cigarettes and 28% of hand-rolling tobacco smoked in the UK. Taxpayers lost around £2.5 billion from the illicit trade in 2016-17 and this is money which could be used to fund the vital public services we all rely on and, for example, equates to the cost of funding over 50,000 new NHS nurses for a year.

Cllr Judith Heathcoat, Cabinet member for Trading Standards said “Anyone involved in the sale of illegal tobacco commits a criminal offence which could result in a hefty fine and lengthy prison sentence. If sales are happening on licensed premises, the business risks losing its alcohol licence, so it is important that responsible premises licence holders take steps to make sure illegal sales aren’t happening in their establishment. Licensees have an important role to play in Oxfordshire Trading Standards’ campaign to keep cheap, illegal tobacco out of the County.”

Questions that anyone running a pub, club or other similar licensed premises should ask themselves:

  • Do some of your patrons visit regularly and carry large bags or holdalls?
  • Do they meet with the same people or staff every time and are their actions suspicious; for example is money passed between them?
  • Do you monitor what’s going on in your establishment, particularly in designated smoking areas or at the door?
  • Are people regularly meeting in the car park? Why? Could they be selling illegal goods?

What is illegal tobacco?

There are different types of illegal tobacco:

  • Illicit white cigarettes – brands which have no legal market in the UK and are usually amongst the cheapest sold
  • Non-UK duty paid – genuine UK brands smuggled into the country and sold without duty being paid
  • Counterfeit – illegally manufactured and made to look close to identical to genuine plain-packaging brands

Anyone with information relating to illegal tobacco being bought or sold, can report this to Trading Standards by anonymously via the Illegal Tobacco Hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0300 999 6 999 or online at http://www.stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk/

The Oxfordshire Smoking Advice Service delivers a local, free, comprehensive service for stopping smoking for anyone who would like some help to stop smoking.

There are advisers all over Oxfordshire who can help you quit. With the right help and support from your local stop smoking service, you are up to four times more likely to quit than if you choose to go it alone. For more information or simply an informal chat about stopping smoking, please call our team of advisors on 0800 622 6360 or send a SMS QUIT to 66777