16,000 black market Chinese cigarettes seized in Islington raid
PUBLISHED: 17:22 23 November 2015 | UPDATED: 17:32 23 November 2015
Warning over dangers of illicit tobacco as products worth £11,000 are found in intelligence-led swoop
A raid on a suspected illicit tobacco factory has led to 16,000 illegal Chinese cigarettes and almost 12 kilos of loose leaf tobacco being taken off the streets of Islington.
The borough’s trading standards officers and police swooped on a house and seized a sizeable haul of dangerous counterfeit tobacco products with a street value of £11,000, the Gazette can reveal.
The seizure has prompted an appeal for the public to be wary of the dangers of cheap fake tobacco.
Doug Love, of Islington trading standards, said: “This was a decent sized haul.
“But any amount of enforcement will not really dent the actual sales. What’s got to happen is for people to be persuaded that it’s not worth buying illicit tobacco and in that way reduce the demand.
“We need a comprehensive London campaign to explain to the public why illicit tobacco is even more dangerous than genuine tobacco.”
The Gazette has been behind the scenes with Islington trading standards to find out more about the dangers of the trade in counterfeit or smuggled cigarettes.
Trade in counterfeits
Dominated globally by organised criminals, the trade in illicit tobacco damages public health and robs the UK treasury of £2billion annually.
All tobacco products sold in the UK are subject to excise duty and any cigarettes or hand-rolling tobacco sold without duty-paid are illegal.
Since 2000, when HMRC first introduced a strategy to tackle black market tobacco, more than 26 billion cigarettes and 4,300 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco have been seized.
Yet the market is still huge. Some 10 per cent of UK cigarettes and 39 per cent of hand-rolling tobacco were illicit in 2013-14. This is down from 22 per cent of cigarettes and 61 per cent of loose tobacco in 2000-01.
Until 2008-9 more hand-rolling tobacco was bought on the black market than legally in the UK.
Tackling the trade remains a key priority for HMRC and the Border Force.
Often linked to organised crime, the black market robs HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) of £2billion a year in lost tax duty and also puts public health at risk.
We can reveal fake cigarettes are sometimes laced with lethal heavy metals like arsenic, while clever copies of main stream brands such as Benson & Hedges and Marlboro, known as “illicit whites”, are completely unregulated.
Counterfeit or smuggled cigarettes, which do not conform to EU safety standards, also pose significant fire risks.
“UK cigarettes stop burning if you’re not actively smoking them, they auto-extinguish,” said Mr Love. “Illicit cigarettes carry on burning, so it leads to house fires.
“There have been deaths attributed to cigarettes that carried on burning. So they are even more dangerous from that point of view.”
The latest figures from HMRC show a tenth of all cigarettes and 39 per cent of hand rolling tobacco is illicit, meaning it is either counterfeit or illegally smuggled into the country.
The sizable seizure of illicit tobacco at a house in Tottenham on October 28 will have made a small dent in the black market trade.
Bin liners stuffed with tobacco
It came after an eagle-eyed Islington trading standards officer saw a woman attempting to sell tobacco from a shopping trolley in Holloway and council officers secured a warrant for the raid.
They seized 8.5kg of hand-rolling tobacco in Amber Leaf or Golden Virginia branded pouches, a black bin liner stuffed with 3.5kilos of loose leaf tobacco and 830 packets of Hongtashan and Septwolves Chinese cigarettes.
Officers also confiscated fake tax duty stamps for the Benelux region, covering Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg, a heat-sealing machine used on cellophane packets, a set of scales, and various tobacco packaging.
Three people were arrested and one woman has been bailed to return in December. No further action will be taken against the other two men.
Islington trading standards has taken a tough stance on selling counterfeit tobacco over the past five years.
“You are not likely to see this so much in Islington because of the amount of work we’ve done on illicit tobacco,” said Mr Love.
“Certainly I don’t seem to find as much as my colleagues from other boroughs, but there’s a lot around.
“There used to be a massive overt problem at a pub in Holloway until the council and HMRC and the police all acted together. Now it’s not very overt but it’s probably still covert.”
The counterfeits are often convincing. Our reporter found it hard to identify the real from the fake and the profits from sales are fuelling other crime, it is warned.
“A tiny, tiny percentage of illicit tobacco will be a fella bringing a load back from Poland or Belgium and selling it on his own,” said Mr Love. “The vast majority of this is organised crime and obviously it funds other crimes.”