UNDERCOVER investigators have revealed a black market of illicit tobacco on sale in Sunderland.
Investigators spent three days working in the city where they picked up tobacco and cigarettes illegally on sale in the UK.
Among the team’s haul was two cartons of cigarettes, 38 individual packets of cigarettes and four packets of rolling tobacco.
Seven of the sales were made in city pubs, two by pub staff. Twice the team bought from people’s homes, known as ‘fag houses’ – and even from a man from the team’s car hire firm.
Arriving in Sunderland, the investigators – who are all former police officers – were quickly led to people who could supply them with illicit cigarettes.
A group of smokers in the city centre told the test purchasers of two shops that dealt in dodgy fags.
They were also directed to houses where they could buy them for as little as £3.50 a carton – a fraction of the costs in the shops.
Leading the test purchasing is Will O’Reilly, former Scotland Yard Detective chief inspector.
He said illegal cigarettes could contain a host of dangers for smokers seeking a cheap deal.
“They can have high levels of asbestos because they are unregulated.
“If they don’t comply with European standards and are not fire retardant, they cause house fires and death.
“The illicit trade in the UK is going up and it is a growing problem. It is obviously austerity measures.
“Smokers are turning to cheap packets in times of downturn.
“But the money is going back to organised gangs. They are turning away from high-risk activities and turning to smuggling cigarettes, which has greater profit margins.
“People need to think when they are buying these cigarettes, that they are funding organised crime.”
Will has been working undercover on behalf of an international tobacco firm since 2011 and passes all his finding on to HM Revenue and Customs.
Illicit cigarettes can be counterfeit and bear trademarks that have been manufactured without the permission of the owner
It is estimated one in 10 cigarettes smoked in the UK last year were illegal.
Government figures show that the Treasury is losing billions of pounds in revenue as 500 million more cigarettes were smuggled into the UK in 2012/13 than in 2011/12 and 300 more tonnes of hand rolling tobacco.
It is not against the law to buy illegal cigarettes, but those selling them can face up to 10 years in prison.