By Kris Jepson
Exclusive: Trading Standards have seized around 15,000 suspected illegal cigarettes during a series of raids in Newcastle on Tuesday as part of Operation Beagle.
The raids were prompted by a number of tip offs from members of the public.
Watch @krisjepson's report here:
The raids came on the day a new survey suggested illegal tobacco has helped over half of underage smokers in the North East get hooked.
A survey published today by the charity Fresh found that 54 per cent of children aged 14 and 15, who smoke, say they buy illegal tobacco from sources like "tab houses" and shops, while 73 per cent say they have been offered illegal tobacco.
The figures, from the 2017 North East Illegal Tobacco Survey, are released as Fresh launches its new "Keep It Out" campaign, aimed at helping the public to spot illegal tobacco, report it and to encourage smokers not to buy it.
The survey of over 3000 people from across the North East, which has tracked the size of the illegal tobacco market since 2009 and attitudes towards it, has found in 2017:
- Illicit makes up 12% of all tobacco smoked - a smaller proportion than in 2009 (16%) but slightly higher than in 2015 (9%)
- Less than one in five (18%) of smokers buy illicit - a reduction from 24% in 2009
- The proportion of smokers who have tried illicit tobacco has decreased from 46% in 2011 to 37% in 2017
- Those smokers who do buy illegal tobacco are buying more of it - it makes up 58% of their overall tobacco compared to 40% in 2013.
- Private addresses are the leading source (42%) followed by shops (24%).
- Less is now being bought in pubs - but pubs are still the place where smokers are most likely to be offered it by hawkers touting it around.
Newcastle City Council say today's raids form part of a larger investigation into the supply of illicit tobacco in the Newcastle area, which has discovered thousands of packets of illegal cigarettes this year.
There was no evidence to prove that illegal tobacco had been sold to adults or children at the locations of the raids, but the packets were taken away for further investigation and the shop owners could face prosecution for offences under the Trade Marks Act and Consumer Protection Act if tests prove they are illegal.