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New campaign urges communities to 'Keep It Out'

cigarette in persons hand

Around one-in-10 cigarettes smoked in the North East is illegal - with private homes and dishonest shops the two leading sources of illicit tobacco.

That's one of the findings of the North East Illegal Tobacco Survey published today by Fresh to coincide with the launch of a campaign aimed at encouraging the public to provide intelligence on illegal tobacco dealers in their communities.

The results of the region-wide survey, which tracks the size and scale of the illegal tobacco market over the past decade, show:

  • Almost half (47%) of illicit tobacco buyers mainly purchase from a private address, also known as "tab houses",
  • 93% of people think businesses should be required to have a licence to sell tobacco which can then be removed if they are caught selling illicit tobacco or selling to kids,
  • 66% of people support raising the age of sale of tobacco from 18 to 21 to help reduce young people starting to smoke.

Seized cigs Blencathra Winlaton
Above: illegal cigarettes seized in Gateshead in 2019
The survey's findings have been published to coincide with the launch of a 'Keep it Out' campaign which encourages people to share information about illegal tobacco sales in their community.

The campaign also aims to shift attitudes towards illegal tobacco, the supply of which is often controlled by criminal gangs involved in people trafficking, drugs and loan sharking.

Around one in six of the region's smokers currently buy illegal tobacco though the situation is often worse in areas of social deprivation, according to the survey.

The North East Illegal Tobacco Survey also shows that nicotine addiction often starts in childhood with 15 years the average age for North East smokers to have started smoking.

Councillor Kevin Dodds, chairman of the Tyne and Wear Joint Trading Standards Committee,  says: "All smoking kills, but illegal tobacco helps make it much easier for children to buy tobacco and keeps people hooked on an addiction that kills over 5,000 people in our region every year.

"That's why it's important for local councils to crack down on illegal sales.

"There is a clear link between the sale of cheap, illegal tobacco and organised criminal gangs so it is wrong to think that these criminals are simply providing a public service - they aren't.

Istanbul Stores photo
Above: the council has closed down shops selling illegal tobacco
"In our experience, traders who sell illegal tobacco products inevitably bring high levels of criminality and anti-social behaviour in their wake, so it is essential for the community's sake that we continue to work closely with our colleagues at Northumbria Police to tackle these problem traders. We have had some successful prosecutions and store closures in the recent past and that work continues."

Over the past 12 months, Gateshead Council has had a number of successes in operations against illegal tobacco sellers. As well as seizing large quantities of illegal tobacco, prosecuting a number of sellers of illegal tobacco, the council also secured the closure of two different retailers on Coatsworth Road as well as recovering proceeds of crime.

Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh, said: "Tackling illegal tobacco is part of wider efforts to help make smoking history for future generations and to help them avoid the misery of a smoking-caused disease such as lung cancer or COPD.

"Fifteen people a day die from smoking in the North East and that is whether they smoke legal or illegal tobacco. Price is the best way to help cut smoking - especially preventing younger people from starting - and illegal tobacco undercuts this.

"Nobody wants our children to smoke, but people who sell illegal tobacco usually don't care who they sell to and there are regular reports of kids buying it and dealers selling to them. That is why we have seen thousands of people giving information about local illegal tobacco sales and why most people see it as a danger rather than a victimless crime."

Find out more about illegal tobaccoShe added: "It is encouraging to see the proportion of smokers buying and smoking illegal tobacco has decreased since 2009. However, we know illegal tobacco is more of a problem in some parts of our towns and cities and that it is fuelling the addiction of smokers, pushing the health risks ever-closer and getting young people hooked."

According to Fresh, Tobacco companies have facilitated the smuggling of their own cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco for decades. Internal company documents reveal that in the 1990s smuggling was an integral part of tobacco companies' business strategies.

Published evidence indicates that tobacco companies remain involved in tobacco smuggling and that tobacco industry cigarettes account for around two-thirds of the illicit cigarette market.

If you suspect anyone of selling illegal tobacco you can report them, in confidence, by calling (0300) 999 0000 or visiting www.keep-it-out.co.uk.

cigarette in persons hand
21 January 2020

Around one-in-10 cigarettes smoked in the North East is illegal - with private homes and dishonest shops the two leading sources of illicit tobacco.

That's one of the findings of the North East Illegal Tobacco Survey published today by Fresh to coincide with the launch of a campaign aimed at encouraging the public to provide intelligence on illegal tobacco dealers in their communities.

The results of the region-wide survey, which tracks the size and scale of the illegal tobacco market over the past decade, show:

  • Almost half (47%) of illicit tobacco buyers mainly purchase from a private address, also known as "tab houses",
  • 93% of people think businesses should be required to have a licence to sell tobacco which can then be removed if they are caught selling illicit tobacco or selling to kids,
  • 66% of people support raising the age of sale of tobacco from 18 to 21 to help reduce young people starting to smoke.

Seized cigs Blencathra Winlaton
Above: illegal cigarettes seized in Gateshead in 2019
The survey's findings have been published to coincide with the launch of a 'Keep it Out' campaign which encourages people to share information about illegal tobacco sales in their community.

The campaign also aims to shift attitudes towards illegal tobacco, the supply of which is often controlled by criminal gangs involved in people trafficking, drugs and loan sharking.

Around one in six of the region's smokers currently buy illegal tobacco though the situation is often worse in areas of social deprivation, according to the survey.

The North East Illegal Tobacco Survey also shows that nicotine addiction often starts in childhood with 15 years the average age for North East smokers to have started smoking.

Councillor Kevin Dodds, chairman of the Tyne and Wear Joint Trading Standards Committee,  says: "All smoking kills, but illegal tobacco helps make it much easier for children to buy tobacco and keeps people hooked on an addiction that kills over 5,000 people in our region every year.

"That's why it's important for local councils to crack down on illegal sales.

"There is a clear link between the sale of cheap, illegal tobacco and organised criminal gangs so it is wrong to think that these criminals are simply providing a public service - they aren't.

Istanbul Stores photo
Above: the council has closed down shops selling illegal tobacco
"In our experience, traders who sell illegal tobacco products inevitably bring high levels of criminality and anti-social behaviour in their wake, so it is essential for the community's sake that we continue to work closely with our colleagues at Northumbria Police to tackle these problem traders. We have had some successful prosecutions and store closures in the recent past and that work continues."

Over the past 12 months, Gateshead Council has had a number of successes in operations against illegal tobacco sellers. As well as seizing large quantities of illegal tobacco, prosecuting a number of sellers of illegal tobacco, the council also secured the closure of two different retailers on Coatsworth Road as well as recovering proceeds of crime.

Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh, said: "Tackling illegal tobacco is part of wider efforts to help make smoking history for future generations and to help them avoid the misery of a smoking-caused disease such as lung cancer or COPD.

"Fifteen people a day die from smoking in the North East and that is whether they smoke legal or illegal tobacco. Price is the best way to help cut smoking - especially preventing younger people from starting - and illegal tobacco undercuts this.

"Nobody wants our children to smoke, but people who sell illegal tobacco usually don't care who they sell to and there are regular reports of kids buying it and dealers selling to them. That is why we have seen thousands of people giving information about local illegal tobacco sales and why most people see it as a danger rather than a victimless crime."

Find out more about illegal tobaccoShe added: "It is encouraging to see the proportion of smokers buying and smoking illegal tobacco has decreased since 2009. However, we know illegal tobacco is more of a problem in some parts of our towns and cities and that it is fuelling the addiction of smokers, pushing the health risks ever-closer and getting young people hooked."

According to Fresh, Tobacco companies have facilitated the smuggling of their own cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco for decades. Internal company documents reveal that in the 1990s smuggling was an integral part of tobacco companies' business strategies.

Published evidence indicates that tobacco companies remain involved in tobacco smuggling and that tobacco industry cigarettes account for around two-thirds of the illicit cigarette market.

If you suspect anyone of selling illegal tobacco you can report them, in confidence, by calling (0300) 999 0000 or visiting www.keep-it-out.co.uk.

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