By Hugh Morris
A CAMPAIGN to stop illegal tobacco being sold to children at “pocket money prices” across the region will be launched next month.
The first effort in the east of England to clamp down on bootleg, smuggled and counterfeit tobacco will target the criminals who sell the cigarettes for as little as £2.75 for a 20-pack, as well as trying to educate young people about the dangers of fake tobacco.
Illegal Tobacco: Keep It Out will tell how millions of illegal cigarettes enter East Anglia via Felixstowe each year and could end up in the hands of children as young as 12 for just a few pounds. Some of these cigarettes could be rolled with rat poison or even squirrel excrement.
Dr Anne McConville, regional director of public health for the east of England, said she was concerned despite action by health authorities the rate of smoking remains steady.
“One of the issues is that illegal tobacco keeps down the cost of smoking and that’s attractive to young people,” she said.
“If we can make tobacco more expensive by tackling the sale of illegal tobacco, that would help us also re-enforce the message about the real cost of smoking.”
Dr McConville said illegal tobacco helps to fuel organised crime.
Since 2000, when the Government clamped down on tobacco smugglers, more than 20 billion cigarettes have been seized worth £4.5 billion.
Statistics show two thirds of smokers begin before they turn 18 and a third of those have smoked illegal tobacco. Such tobacco, which could be fake, smuggled or bought free from duty tax, can be sold under the counter at newsagents, at pubs or clubs, or on the street.
“People might think they are doing their community a service selling cheap tobacco, but I think they are doing their community a disservice. It’s hurting the legitimate businesses,” said Andrew Fayers, lead officer for trading standards at Cambridgeshire County Council.
“The problem we have in Cambridgeshire is people selling illegal tobacco, not out of shops, but elsewhere, on the move, so they’re hard to track down.”
Mr Fayers called on member of the public to report people they suspected of selling illegal tobacco.
The campaign will launch in April with a radio advert and a roadshow that will come to Cambridge.