ONE in 20 smokers in Devon now smoke illegal tobacco, according to shocking new figures.
Smokefree South West has launched a multi-partnership initiative to tackle the illegal trade, which is valued at £211 million in the region.
HMRC, Trading Standards, the police, Crimestoppers, Primary Care Trusts and local authorities have all banded together to fight the sale of illegal tobacco, which can be bought from criminals at ‘pocket money prices.'
This attracts younger smokers and allows those who could otherwise not afford to smoke, to maintain their habit and undermining their attempts to quit.
In Devon, over 7 out of 10 (67.2%) people believe that illegal tobacco poses a real danger to children and over 4 out of 10 (45.5%) of illegal tobacco smokers agree that the reduced price of illegal tobacco products allows them to smoke when they otherwise couldn't afford to.
Smokefree South West Director, Fiona Andrews said: “Significant progress has been made since February 2011 when we first launched the campaign to tackle the problem of illegal tobacco across the South West. Our collective efforts to tackle illegal tobacco are having a big effect, but more can be done.
“The illegal tobacco market in the UK has halved in the last decade but still poses a real and present threat to children and local communities. Cigarettes and pouches of hand rolling tobacco are offered to our children at pocket money prices making it cheap and all too easy for our children to smoke and become addicted.
“The only people who benefit from this trade are the criminals who don’t care about what is in the packets they sell. Since illegal tobacco remains part of the range of smuggled and contraband goods traded by criminal gangs it is vital that steady, sustained pressure continues to be applied.”
South West spokesman for HM Revenue & Customs, Bob Gaiger said: "The trade in illegal tobacco across the South West is a very real problem, one that through this partnership initiative we are tackling, but there is more still to be done. Illegal tobacco is often the first stage in a chain of illegal trades that fund criminality.
“These criminals smuggle tobacco and cigarettes illegally into the country. Some of these will be counterfeit and will have been manufactured in completely unregulated environments to be sold at knock-down prices. They do not care about the impact on local businesses, your neighbourhood or your children’s lives, targeting anyone and anywhere they can make money.
“Together, we are focused on breaking the hold these criminal gangs have on local communities across the South West.”
The campaign will also be running a local public engagement event in Devon in March to help bring the message of the dangers illegal tobacco poses into local communities.