The cost-of-living crisis could mean more people are pushed into buying counterfeit, and potentially harmful, cigarettes from unscrupulous shop owners.
And one Bradford professor claims the issue will get worse as more low-income families are faced with rising prices.
The Local Government Association, which represents Councils across the country, has warned that with the cost day to day essentials rising, the cost-of-living crisis “could be exploited by rogue traders looking to cash in on the sale of cheap counterfeit tobacco.”
In recent years numerous court cases in Bradford have highlighted the problem with counterfeit tobacco.
One recent case in Bradford and Keighley Magistrates Court involved a shop owner who sold counterfeit Richmond cigarettes for as little as £3.50 a pack – much cheaper than the £10 retail price.
And in 2020 a Trading Standards case against one shopkeeper saw the claim that customers could not afford full price cigarettes used as a defence, with the defence solicitor saying the shopkeeper was “only providing a service” for his hard-up customers.
In these cases, the court hears that there is little information about where these counterfeit cigarettes came from, or how they were made – meaning they could contain potentially harmful materials.
The Local Government Association has also pointed out that the duty dodged when criminal gangs import these cigarettes mean public health schemes paid for by this duty are less effective.
Calling for more support to stop the trade of counterfeit cigarettes, the LGA said: “An increase in these sales would not only hamper Council efforts to reduce smoking but also exacerbate existing health inequalities between low-income groups and the wider population as illicit tobacco is most readily available in poorer communities where smoking rates are disproportionately high.
“It also undermines the impact of tobacco tax rises, which have been found to be most effective at encouraging price-sensitive residents to quit.
“Illicit tobacco also plays a significant role in funding organised criminal gangs with strong links to drug dealing, money laundering and people trafficking.”
The association’s comments come ahead of the Independent review of Smokefree 2030 policies by former Barnardos chief executive Javed Khan
Referring to the issue of cheap counterfeit cigarettes, John Wright, the Director of the Public Institute for Health Research in Bradford, said: “It’s a problem – while tobacco sales have been dropping for many years, illegal tobacco has remained stable and so in effect has become more important as a cause of ill-health and cancer.
“With austerity and cost-of-living crisis, this will become more of a problem.
“Two aspects from a public health perspective – firstly smoking still kills 100,000 people per year in this country and smoking taxes are really important to fund smoking cessation support.
“Illegal tobacco continues to promote the harm of smoking while reducing the funding from taxes to support smokers to quit.
“The other aspect is that this is unregulated so has the risk of encouraging access to children to start smoking.”