ACTION to tackle the illegal tobacco trade in the North East has come under the spotlight at a Parliamentary inquiry.
Fresh, which aims to tackle smoking-related illness and death in the region, has been called to give evidence as part of a three-day investigation by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health (APPG) into the illegal tobacco trade.
Although illegal tobacco is still a problem in some areas, the North of England Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Programme, set up to bring together the work of the NHS, HMRC, councils and police, has helped reduce the amount of illegal tobacco consumed since its launch in 2009.
Between 2009 and 2011, the volume of illegal tobacco bought by smokers fell by 39 per cent, while the number of smokers actually buying illegal tobacco fell by 10 per cent. This is estimated to have saved about £36million in duty and tax.
The APPG inquiry, which started yesterday, follows the adoption of the Illicit Trade Protocol, a new international treaty adopted by more than 140 countries worldwide last month setting rules for combating the illegal trade.
Tighter controls of the supply chain and international cooperation, including a global tracking and tracing system, are part of the new protocol.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, which ran the “Keep It Out” campaign on illegal tobacco earlier this year, said: “All tobacco is harmful, but illegal tobacco is a problem that helps children get hooked on smoking.
“There are many lessons to learn on tackling the problem and in the North East ongoing work by the NHS, HMRC and trading standards has resulted in greater awareness of the problems, more people reporting it and fewer people buying illegal tobacco.”
Richard Ferry, of the North East Trading Standards Association, said: “The market has changed a lot in recent years. We have seen fewer counterfeit cigarettes and more mass produced brands made in factories in places like Kaliningrad making their way across. The suppliers don’t even try to pass them off as genuine product.”
The hearing will look at trends in the illicit trade in tobacco products in the UK, and how the Government should implement the Illicit Trade Protocol to put in place an international tracking and tracing system for tobacco products.
As well as looking at effective local and regional partnerships in tackling the illicit trade, it will also look at the impact of the EU legal agreements on illicit trade with the big tobacco firms.