A charity has found that almost half of the smokers in Wales have been offered the opportunity to purchase illegal tobacco.
This first survey into the size of the Welsh illegal tobacco market by Ash, the anti-smoking charity, indicates that it is bigger than in any English area.
It found that 15% of all the tobacco sold in Wales is illegal with a trade that is estimated to be worth millions of pounds.
Councils have been promised sniffer dogs by the Welsh government, to try and eradicate the problem.
Some of the illegal tobacco on the market has been found to contain higher levels of tar and some even contained droppings and dirt.
Mark Drakeford, the Health Minister, said this illegal trade is hampering the efforts to help people quit smoking.
The survey involved 2500 participants across 22 Welsh local authorities. It indicated that around 25% of Welsh smokers have purchased illegal tobacco, with around 60% making regular monthly purchases.
Illegal tobacco cigarettes are generally much cheaper than normal cigarettes. It costs about £4 per pack of 20, while a legal packet of cigarettes costs about £8.
According to the survey, around 52% of the illegal products are purchased and sold in private homes, although a large quantity is sold under-the-counter in shops, clubs and pubs.
The Chief Executive of Ash Wales, Elen de Lacy, said that the results of the survey are ‘extremely worrying’. She said that the smoking rate among the youth is extremely high and at the cheap prices of illegal tobacco, it makes it easier for them to access. She added that the low price also makes it harder for adult smokers to attempt quitting the habit.
Types Of Illicit Cigarettes
The different types of illegal cigarettes include:
• ‘Illicit Whites’, which are manufactured in Asia and Eastern Europe. It is unregulated and found to contain high tar levels, dirt and some of them contained droppings
• Bootleg tobacco is imported without paying duties
• Fake or counterfeit tobacco is unregulated and found to contain dirt, high levels of tar and some droppings
Last spring one of the biggest consignments of illegal tobacco, with a street value in excess of £500000 was discovered in three Newport shops by the trading standards officers based in the city.
According to ASH Wales, the problem should be tackled by running public awareness campaign in the region. They state that a similar effort undertaken in the north east of England result in the reduction of illegal tobacco rates from 15%, the current Welsh level, of the product sold during 2009, to 9% during 2013.
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