ONE in five packets of cigarettes smoked in Hartlepool are either illegal or purchased outside of the UK, a new study has found.
The figure has risen significantly from 14.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2013 to 20.8 per cent in the final quarter of 2014.
An Empty Discarded Pack Collection Survey by MSIntelligence has shown the increasing use of bootlegged, smuggled or counterfeit cigarettes in the town.
The new MSIntelligence survey shows 25.4 per cent of all packs in the North East are either illegal or purchased outside of the UK.
The ‘non domestic’ rate in the North East rose from 18.6 per cent in the last quarter of 2013 to 25.4 per cent in the same period in 2014.
It found that a over a quarter of all cigarettes smoked in the North East are contributing nothing to the exchequer.
The figures do not include hand-rolled tobacco, for which HMRC estimates that as much as half of UK consumption is sourced on the black market. For the survey 12,700 packs from streets and easy access bins were tested in the largest 105 cities across the UK from September 24 to October 29 last year.
Cheap illegal cigarettes are often sold on street corners and in ‘fag houses’, meaning that anybody can have access to them. Criminal gangs are known to routinely target children.
Will O’Reilly, a former Scotland Yard detective chief inspector has been conducting research to gain intelligence and understanding of the illicit trade in cigarettes across the United Kingdom.
He said: “Very worrying is the huge growth in illicit whites, unregulated cigarettes made predominately for smuggling, these are not brought back by visitors abroad but smuggled in by the container load by organised crime and terrorist groups.
“People don’t necessarily understand the consequences of purchasing illegal tobacco. If you buy a cheap packet of cigarettes, that money ends up supporting organised crime. Every cigarette funds the availability of drugs on our streets, gun crime or terrorist attacks, making our communities and our streets less safe.
“The widespread availability of illicit tobacco has a devastating impact on our local communities. It not only undermines legitimate retailers but leads to a knock on effect in local crime generally, such as we have seen before with street dealing in drugs and how that can devastate a community.”