Rogue retailers in Bury who sell illegal tobacco are being watched as part of a regional campaign to reduce its supply and demand.
Anyone found guilty of selling smuggled or fake tobacco will face penalties from the police, local authority and HMRC - fines, tax bills, removal of alcohol licences, shop closures or prison sentences.
Thanks to Buryresidents reporting, partners have been cracking down on retailers across the borough who sell illegal tobacco to kids, getting them hooked, and adults who would otherwise quit an expensive and lethal habit.
Between April 2021 and September 2021, the Keep It Out campaign, run across Bury, generated 10 reports of illegal tobacco being sold and raids seized more than 2,000 illegal cigarettes and illegal hand rolling tobacco.
This enforcement activity comes after figures from a survey by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership[i]revealed that nearly half (45%) of people who buy illicit tobacco purchase it from shops, an increase from 31% in 2018*.
The Keep It Out campaign is part of a regional multi-agency programme to reduce the supply of and demand for illegal tobacco, highlighting the true cost of these ‘cheap’ products and encouraging people to report sales. This sits alongside the national Operation CeCe which aims to disrupt every aspect of the illegal tobacco market, from front-line retailers to global Organised Crime Groups who drive the illicit trade, smuggling tobacco internationally.
Councillor Charlotte Morris, Bury Council’s cabinet member for culture and the economy, said: “Our trading standards team is working with local police to keep illegal tobacco out of Bury. But we need honest retailers and the public to anonymously report where illegal tobacco is being sold, so we can identify the criminals who are putting the health of our communities at risk.
“People might think illegal tobacco isn’t a big deal, but it’s smuggled and dealt by organised crime groups who are linked to drugs and people trafficking. These people profit from keeping smokers addicted and selling to underage kids.”
Andrea Crossfield, Making Smoking History lead at the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “The crackdown on illegal tobacco is part of Greater Manchester’s wider efforts to cut smoking rates and make smoking history for future generations. All tobacco kills but illegal tobacco enables underage kids to start smoking, as people who sell illegal tobacco will sell to kids, and, through cheaper prices, prevents smokers from quitting a habit that kills one in two who do it. It is simply not acceptable to buy or sell illegal tobacco products.”
Greater Manchester research shows that three quarters (72%) of retailers believe illicit tobacco has an impact on their business or the wider area. However, a third of retailers did not know how many smokers would die as a result of their habit.**
Kate Pike, Trading Standards North West Lead on Tobacco, said: “We can reassure retailers that we act on every report of illegal tobacco sales, and support other measures to reduce the market such as the introduction of a tobacco licence and increasing the age of sale to 21.
“Tobacco companies often use illegal tobacco as the counter argument to increasing tougher measures for all tobacco sales but in Britain, the market share of illicit tobacco has declined since 2000 despite all the changes to how tobacco is sold. We would ask shopkeepers to consider whether tobacco companies have their best interests at heart by pressing them to maximise investment in tobacco despite it being a declining, low-profit sector for them. And a product that will kill one in two customers, when used as intended by manufacturers.
“The size of the illicit market is determined principally by law enforcement. That’s why it’s so important we work together to keep it out.”
The sale of illegal tobacco can be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers 0800 555 111 or at keep-it-out.co.uk.