ILLEGAL tobacco sales are at a record low, according to new research.
Health campaign group Fresh said a tracking programme, which has been in place since 2009, shows sales have dropped to just nine per cent this year, compared to 21 per cent between 2010 and 2011.
There has also been a steady decline in the number of smokers buying illicit tobacco, especially among 16 to 34-year-olds.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh North East, said: “Although illegal tobacco is still a problem in some areas, we have seen a significant fall in the market in the North East since 2009, despite being deep in the middle of a recession when more people are struggling financially.
“Fewer people now see illegal tobacco as a victimless crime.”
The survey revealed the total amount of illicit tobacco bought is down 27 per cent from 2011, which means there are 192 million fewer cigarettes, and hand rolled cigarettes, worth £56 million in duty, in circulation.
Richard Ferry, of the North East Trading Standards Association, said the study provides useful information about where smokers buy illegal tobacco and the brands being sold in the illegal market.
“We need to keep disrupting known supply outlets like tab houses.
“But also remain aware of pubs, clubs and shops where illegal tobacco is being sold.”
However, Colin Wragg, Head of UK Corporate and Legal Affairs at Imperial Tobacco, said illegal tobacco is still a concern.
“North East businesses lost £315 million to the illegal tobacco trade, and crossborder shopping, in 2012, and the government needs to recognise the extent of this issue,” he told the Echo.
“Continual tobacco duty rises in this country are increasing the temptation for smokers to buy illicit tobacco products.
“The average price of a pack of 20 cigarettes is around £7 in UK shops, compared to the street price of counterfeit cigarettes of between £3 and £4 per pack.
“Nearly a quarter of the cigarettes consumed in this country evade the level of UK duty, and the situation is only going to get worse.”
Inspector Cheryl Warcup, of Northumbria Police, said: “The importation and sale of illegal tobacco is often linked to other forms of criminal activity and we work with our partners to target offenders and prevent offending of all types. We encourage the community to come forward about their concerns.’’