From: St Helens Star (UK)
FEARS children are being harmed by smoking illegal tobacco will lead to trading standards officers targeting pubs and workplaces in a major crackdown on illicit cigarette suppliers.
Figures released last summer from Revenue and Customs suggest 17.5 per cent of tobacco in circulation across St Helens is illegal, putting the town at the top of a regional hall of shame.
It includes smuggled foreign brands sold on the black market after being brought into the UK illegally, bootlegged cigarettes imported in large quantities from countries with lower tax and re-sold and counterfeit cigarettes made to look like popular UK brands The campaign, which involves the Health Improvement Team at Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Trust, aims to highlight the dangers that go with smoking – particularly for children – which are heightened by the availability of cheap tobacco.
Investigations, regionally, have found youngsters easily get hold of cut-price, smuggled, or even fake cigarettes under-the-counter from sunbed salons, ice-cream vans and so-called ‘tab’ houses.
There are concerns that children become addicted to smoking because they get cheap access to the blackmarket cigarettes, with figures suggesting 80 per cent of smokers are addicted before they turn 18.
More than 21 per cent of adults smoke in St Helens, slightly above the national average, and there are 359 deaths locally each year attributed to cigarette use, which is high compared with the national rate.
Health leaders warn tobacco products are harmful – whether bought legitimately from a retailer or illegally on the black market.
They contain 4,000 chemicals, at least 60 of which are known to cause cancer.
Eileen O’Meara, assistant director of public health for NHS St Helens said: “Illegal tobacco is readily available and cheap in our communities, making it easy for children and young people to take up smoking.
“More than 8,000 teenagers aged 14 to 17 in the north west have admitted to regularly buying fake cigarettes.
“Smoking is an addiction of childhood with most smokers – 80 per cent – starting as teenagers. Tackling illegal tobacco is crucial if we’re going to prevent future generations from taking up smoking.”
Councillor Alison Bacon said: “A few unscrupulous individuals are putting profit before the health of our children, with little or no regard to the laws controlling the supply of tobacco.
“Members of the community can help us by reporting any information that helps to build a case and then take action against those involved in this criminal activity.”
Anyone who has information about the supply of illegal tobacco should report it to the Trading Standards Regional Illicit Tobacco Enforcement Team on 01925 442 658 or crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.