Help shut down illegal tobacco dealers - Report illegal sales today

Appeal launched to shut down illegal tobacco dealers 

Locals in Northumberland are being urged to help shut down criminals dealing illegal tobacco this summer as new figures show “tab houses” and shops are the two main sources for children and adults in the region. 

It comes as a major survey of nearly 1900 peoplei across Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham shows that 7 in 10 children aged 14-17 who smoke have been offered and have tried illegal tobacco. 

Trading standards teams are hoping for new information from the public as the Keep It Out campaign re-launches this weekii. Since 2017 the campaign has resulted in over 1,900 tip offs from within the region and over 7,600 nationally, leading to seizures, court action and shops facing closure orders and fines. 
Illegal tobacco isn’t just fake tobacco but cheap foreign brands with no legal market in the UK and smuggled genuine tobacco – globally there is evidence beyond doubt about the role of big tobacco in facilitating smuggling.

All people have to do to report anonymously is click here.

The latest 2021 figures from the survey of 1878 people in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham (including 100 children aged 14-17) found: 
  • More than 7/10 children aged 14-17 who smoke (74%) have been offered illegal tobacco and half (49%) buy it. Houses or “tab houses” are the source for 75% and shops 14% of children’s illegal tobacco purchases 
  • Around 11% of all tobacco smoked is illegal – largely unchanged since 2015 but lower than 2009 (15%). That means around 128m illegal cigarettes bought in the NE per year with an annual duty loss of around £55m 
  • 15% of smokers in the sample area (or around 36,000 people) buy illegal tobacco. That’s down from 23% of smokers in 2011. However 61% of buyers now purchase it at least once a week - an increase 
  • 43% of adult buyers mainly purchase from a house or "tab house", and 29% from a shop (29%). Street sellers make up 9% of purchases and online only 5% 
  • 16% of current smokers say they are often offered illegal tobacco 
  • More than 8/10 buyers of illegal tobacco say it helps them to smoke 
Northumberland County Councillor Colin Horncastle, cabinet member for community services said:

“Far from being a victimless crime, cheap illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to start smoking, takes advantage of cash-strapped families, and funds organised crime.    

“Illegal tobacco deprives services like schools and hospitals of taxes, undermines laws to protect children from smoking and puts money into the hands of criminals. Most shops would not dream of selling it and we are also appealing to them to inform if they know of any local businesses or homes illegally selling it. 

“We take sales extremely seriously and will act on information - I strongly encourage residents to help us to keep illicit tobacco out of our communities by contacting Trading Standards with any information about any supplier in the county."    

Anyone with information about houses, shops, pubs or individuals selling illegal tobacco can give information online at or by calling the illegal tobacco hotline at 0300 999 00 00. All information will be treated anonymously. 

Shopkeeper John McClurey, whose own father died from smoking, said: “Retailers are adjusting to the reality that tobacco sales are on the long-term decline as more and more smokers are quitting and fewer young people are taking it up.   

“Most retailers always abide by the rules but too often we see illegal tobacco being sold from shops – including to children – and more needs to be done to clamp down on the sellers.  Trading Standards provide an excellent service, supporting businesses and enforcing tobacco laws, but there is still a criminal minority who need to be dealt with.”  
Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance, said: "1 in 2 long term smokers will die from smoking, regardless of where they buy legal or illegal tobacco.  But cheap, illegal tobacco keeps smokers smoking, gets kids hooked and compounds health. inequalities.  Dealers are linked to criminality and do not care if local children buy it. 
“Tackling illegal tobacco is vital to make smoking history for future generations and help reduce the misery of smoking-caused diseases such as lung cancer or COPD in local communities.   
“The Keep It Out campaign has resulted in thousands of pieces of information over a decade that has helped trading standards and other enforcement colleagues take illegal tobacco off the streets. No-one wants local criminals profiting from addiction or kids getting hooked which is why more and more people are helping to report sales.” 
She added: “The good news is that fewer smokers are now buying illegal tobacco, but the bad news is that those who do buy it are more likely to be buying it more often.   
Price is a really important tool to help prevent children starting to smoke and to encourage smokers to quit, but what we need now is a new properly funded national tobacco control plan. That must include a levy on tobacco manufacturer profits to fund prevention work, a requirement for anyone selling tobacco to have a licence, and also increased funding for local trading standards work to tackle illegal tobacco.” 

What is illegal tobacco? 
  • Illicit whites – brands which have no legal market in the UK 
  • Non-UK duty paid – genuine UK brands brought into the country and sold without duty being paid 
  • Counterfeit – illegally manufactured and made to look like recognised brands 
Why is it a problem? 
Children: children and young smokers are often targeted by people who sell illegal cigarettes, making it even easier for them to get hooked on smoking. The people making money out of this do not care who they sell to.  
Safety: young and vulnerable people are often the ones to visit private addresses to buy cigarettes. It puts them into risky situations with people who might also be selling alcohol, drugs and stolen goods.  
Crime: the illegal tobacco trade has strong links with organised crime and criminal gangs, so many of the people smuggling, distributing and selling it are involved in drug dealing, money laundering, people trafficking and even terrorism.  Even small time local sellers are at the end of a long criminal chain – selling illegal tobacco is a crime 
Health: while both legal and tobacco are equally harmful, illegal tobacco keeps smokers smoking and gets kids hooked on a lethal addiction 
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