PEOPLE who buy illegal tobacco are helping to fund dangerous criminal gangs, according to the acting director of public health for Swindon.
Recent figures show that more than 15 per cent of smokers in the town use illegal tobacco, and Cherry Jones has said they are putting the most vulnerable people in society at risk.
She has also highlighted that by using illegal tobacco, it is easier for children to start smoking as they are able to bypass the age checks often found in shops.
She said: “More than one in ten smokers in Swindon uses illegal tobacco, but most probably aren’t aware that illegal tobacco is directly linked to serious organised crime such as drug trafficking, and underpins an underground economy worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
“Smuggled into Swindon by organised gangs, young people and vulnerable adults are often the ones most at risk. By visiting ‘fag houses’ to buy their cheap tobacco, these people put themselves in risky situations with people who might also be selling illegal alcohol, drugs and stolen goods.
“Illegal tobacco also makes it easier for children in Swindon to smoke. This is because it’s affordable, sold at pocket money prices, and often up to half the price of legal duty paid tobacco.
“Criminals selling cheap illegal tobacco don’t care if your son or daughter is under age. In fact we know more than eight out of ten smokers start before the age of 19.
“By selling tobacco to children as young as 12 or 13 years old, these criminals are creating an addiction that could last a lifetime, cost thousands of pounds and result in an early death, as one in two long-term smokers die as a result of using tobacco products.”
There have been increased efforts recently to tackle the issue in Swindon, with police raiding properties to seize quantities of illegal tobacco.
Cherry said: “This isn’t a problem that is happening somewhere else; it’s happening in Swindon.
“This is why Swindon Council is working closely with local police, Trading Standards, HMRC and Smokefree South West to clamp down on this serious crime.
“Working together, the partnership has been out talking to people in the heart of our local community about the negative impact of illegal tobacco, encouraging the public to pass on information, anonymously if they prefer, about illegal tobacco trading in their area.
“This information has been invaluable to Trading Standards who, supported by the police, raided a number of Swindon shops in June and seized more than £4,000 of illegal tobacco, including thousands of cigarettes that are only available illegally on the black market.”
Anyone wishing to report the selling of illegal tobacco can do so anonymously online to Trading Standards at www.stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.