Illegal tobacco ‘threatens London’s crucial COVID-19 stop smoking efforts’

London’s trading standards and public health experts are warning of the dangers of illegal tobacco, highlighting how its availability across the capital undermines stop smoking efforts.

They point to evidence showing that access to illegal tobacco, including the sale of single cigarettes, makes it easier for children to develop smoking habits and harder for London’s estimated 900,000 smokers (accounting for almost 15% of all smokers in England) to quit.

Criminals are reaping in over £100 million a year from London’s illegal tobacco trade. Research suggests around 15% of cigarettes smoked in London come from illicit trade.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means it’s more important than ever to tackle illegal tobacco and support Londoners to stop smoking, particularly as winter approaches and pressures on London’s NHS are likely to increase.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and damages the heart and lungs, which can put smokers at greater risk of life-threatening complications if they get COVID-19.

Through the collaborative #StampITOutLondon campaign, London’s boroughs – in partnership with Public Health England London, London Trading Standards, and the London Association of Directors of Public Health – are calling on Londoners to help look out for illegal tobacco products and to report on the premises and individuals who sell it.

Councillor Sir Ray Puddifoot, London Councils’ Executive Member for Health & Care, said: “Illegal tobacco remains a major challenge in the capital.

“Promoting good public health is crucial for boosting our resilience to COVID-19, but illegal tobacco makes it easier for young people to start smoking and harder for others to quit, as well as bringing crime into communities.

“London boroughs are continuing to fight against the sale and distribution of these dangerous products. We’re determined to raise awareness among our residents and to help create a healthier, safer city for Londoners.”

Stephen Knight, Operations Director at London Trading Standards said: “The selling of illegal tobacco not only undermines efforts to help people quit smoking, but also funds the activities of organised criminal gangs in the capital.

“London Trading Standards shares intelligence on local dealers so local borough trading standards teams can come down hard on these criminals. The annual Stamp It Out campaign has proven to be an effective way to gather intelligence from the public and, over the past few years, more and more people have provided information to stop criminals selling and distributing illegal tobacco.”

Illegal tobacco products, such as cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco, are smuggled into the UK and are considerably cheaper than legal equivalents, with prices ranging from £3.50 to £7 per packet. Illegal tobacco is usually authentic tobacco industry brands but can be counterfeit, produced in the UK or abroad, and sold at rock bottom prices by unscrupulous criminals.

Selling single cigarettes is also illegal and the availability of single cigarettes at ‘pocket money prices’ makes it easier for children to buy tobacco.

Illegal tobacco is sold in a range of locations across London – including private homes, pubs, and shops. Many of the criminals smuggling and selling illegal tobacco are also involved in drug dealing, money laundering, and people trafficking.

Tell-tale signs of illegal tobacco include:

  • Being much cheaper than normal cigarettes (i.e. £3.50 – £7.00 per pack of 20)
  • Packets with foreign language health warnings
  • No pictures or health warnings
  • Branded instead of plain packaging
  • Unusual or foreign brand names, such as Jin Ling – or those from Russia and the Far East

If Londoners see any tobacco products that match the description above or have information which may be useful, they are advised to call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03444 111 444 or report it using the LTS report tool.

Londoners can also access stop smoking information and support via www.stopsmokinglondon.com.

Online survey

As part of the campaign the online Stamp IT Out survey has been put together. The survey is designed to measure people’s awareness of and attitudes towards illegal tobacco and capture intelligence on premises that sell it.

Campaign media