Illegal tobacco sold at “pocket money prices” is available across Wales, an investigation has found.
S4C’s current affairs programme Y Byd ar Bedwar will tonight examine the trade in illegal tobacco, estimated to account for 15% of all the tobacco sold in Wales - the highest proportion throughout any nation or region in the UK.
And there are fears that the trade in illegal tobacco could be funding organised crime both here in Wales and throughout the UK.
The programme’s cameras followed trading standards officials as they conducted raids to take illegal tobacco products off the streets in Powys and Cardiff.
In Powys, a raid on a domestic dwelling yielded illegal tobacco worth over £1000 whilst on the streets of the capital, illegal tobacco worth over £5000 was found in 5 newsagent stores.
Some had gone to great lengths to hide the products. In one shop, a hiding place was found in a hole in a wall hidden behind a mirror in a bathroom.
Head of Powys Trading Standards Clive Jones says the trade in illegal tobacco is a growing problem.
Illegal cigarettes are reported to have caused at least eight deaths in the UK. Campaigner Julie Grant from Boston, Lincolnshire, lost her mother in a house fire six years ago. June Buffham had been smoking an illegal cigarette when she fell asleep in her chair. Contrary to EU law, the cigarette did not have the self-extinguishing feature which is now required, resulting in a devastating fire.
Speaking to Y Byd ar Bedwar, Mrs Grant said:
“I don’t believe anybody buying them knows what they’re buying. Most smokers believe they are buying regular cigarettes. What I feel they don’t know is the contents of the cigarettes, which from reports I’ve read can be anything from rat droppings to asbestos. But they’re also not aware of the fire safety risks.”
“I’ve got to keep trying to get the message across. It’s got to keep going on until people finally realise the dangers. Basically, don’t go out and buy them.”
Despite the risks posed by the products, Y Byd ar Bedwar journalists were easily able to purchase illegal cigarettes from newsagent stores in Cardiff. They entered nine premises and were sold illegal cigarettes in two stores. The cheapest pack of ‘Jin Ling’ cigarettes (an unknown brand probably originating from Russia) cost just £3. A legitimate packet of 20 cigarettes costs around £8-£12.
Steps are being taken in the capital to tackle the illegal trade. On recent raids, officers from the Shared Regulatory Service seized illegal tobacco worth over £5000 from shops across Cardiff. The five shops where tobacco were found will now be investigated before it's decided whether or not they will be prosecuted.
Operational manager for the Shared Regulatory Service, Christina Hill says more needs to be done across Wales to tackle the growing problem with illegal tobacco.
"We receive more intelligence now than ever before in relation to the supply of illicit tobacco. Authorities need to be working together to tackle the issues we have to hand. It's quite clear this is a front for organised crime and we are just touching upon the surface of the issue that's upon us at the moment."
Anti-smoking charity ASH Cymru were recently commissioned by the Welsh Government to scope a possible programme on illegal tobacco. The Government have set a target of lowering the number of smokers here from 19% of the population to 16% by 2020.
But according to ASH Cymru Chief Executive, Suzanne Cass, the sale of illegal tobacco undermines measures put in place to lower the number of smokers in Wales. “It’s sold at pocket money prices and we know that children are accessing the illegal tobacco. We’re hoping that we’re going to be able to inform a programme of development around tackling illegal tobacco in Wales. In places like the north-east and south-west of England, these campaigns have already taken place and been successful.”
The Welsh Government said “ASH Wales was commissioned by Welsh Government to scope a possible programme on illegal tobacco as highlighted in the Tobacco Control Delivery Plan for Wales 2017-20. We are considering the draft report and a decision will be made later this year.”
Y Byd ar Bedwar: Dan y Cownter is broadcast tonight at 9.30 pm on S4C. English-language subtitles are available.