Brick Lane revealed as hotspot for illegal tobacco trade


It is thought the illegal tobacco trade could profit from new tobacco regulations      Pic: Japan Tobacco International

Historic Brick Lane in Tower Hamlets is a hotspot for illegal tobacco trade, according to an investigation carried out by a global tobacco company.

Retailers are selling counterfeit tobacco and cigarettes, as well as illegally selling foreign products.

The lucrative trade was discovered by an independent investigator, hired by Japan Tobacco International (JTI).

Counterfeit tobacco can have traces of asbestos, mould and human excrement      Pic: Japan Tobacco International

The investigator discovered the magnitude of the illegal tobacco business, after they had been brought in to covertly film them while trying to find and buy illegal tobacco and cigarettes.

Brick Lane, along with Kilburn, Maida Vale and Turnpike Lane, were highlighted as areas with a high percentage of shops selling illegal tobacco ‘under the counter’.

As part of the investigation they also interviewed London smokers and discovered that one third of the people they spoke to has bought illegal tobacco and more than a quarter would still purchase counterfeit tobacco because it’s cheaper.

They found that one in eight retailers was selling counterfeit tobacco and cigarettes, but a new market also came to light – the selling of counterfeit products over social media.

50 tobacco products were seized by an anti-illegal tobacco group    Pic: Japan Tobacco International

Steve Wilkins, JTI’s Anti-Illegal Trade Operations Director, told Eastlondonlines: “Smokers buying cheap fake cigarettes and tobacco on the streets of the UK may be getting more than they bargained.

“Many of the fake imitations have been found to contain asbestos, mould, dust, dead flies, rat droppings and even human excrement. The availability of cheap illegal tobacco across towns and cities in the UK is damaging local communities and along with retailers, suppliers and the Government, we all have a role to play to combat the issue.”

JTI believes the new regulations surrounding the sale of tobacco could make it easier for criminals to produce and sell counterfeit products. The new regulations demand that packaging must all be the same with simple grey colours, which would make it easier to produce the packaging as every brand will now look the same.

The banning of smaller packaging, such as packets of 10 cigarettes opposed to packets of 20, could also lead to an increase in sales of illegal tobacco as it is cheaper.

Roger Critchell, Crimestoppers Director of Operations, told Eastlondonlines: “As a crime-fighting charity, Crimestoppers has a responsibility to tackle all types of crime, and working alongside JTI UK, we hope to be able to clean the streets of illicit tobacco.

An independent third party filmed the purchase of illegal tobacco and cigarettes     Pic: Japan Tobacco International

“The link this trade has to serious and organised crime is very real, and with the help of information from the public on those supplying and selling these fake products, our aim is to ensure your community is a safer place to live.”

Crimestoppers requests that anyone with any information about illegal tobacco contact them anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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