TRADING standards chiefs have warned smokers not to buy bootleg fags amid fears some could contain asbestos.
The warning comes after a batch of Jin Ling cigarettes was reportedly offered around pubs and club across Hartlepool.
The cigarettes, which originate from Russia, are thought to be twice as strong as an ordinary cigarette and many contain toxins such as industrial chemicals and asbestos-lined Chinese drywall.
It is believed the cigarettes are created specifically for the black market, as the brand on offer is not available over the counter.
One man, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Mail he had been offered 200 of the Jin Ling brand while drinking in a Hartlepool club.
He said: “The fella wanted about £25 for 200, which is a bargain for normal cigarettes if you think you are paying £6 for 20.
“I didn’t actually buy any because I hadn’t heard of the brand and when I checked on the internet I’m pleased I didn’t if they contain asbestos.”
Last year, the World Health Organisation issued a warning after the emergence of Jin Ling cigarettes in other European countries.
A WHO spokesman said: “Jin Ling is the most disturbing new development anywhere in the world in the illegal tobacco trade.
“They are flooding into Europe.”
The principal trading standards and licensing officer for Hartlepool Borough Council, Ian Harrison, said: “I am fully aware of this brand, as is probably ever other trading standards officer across Europe.
“This particular brand is made to be smuggled, it is not a brand which can be bought in shops.
“Because of that, there is no quality control and the people who are selling them have no interest in what they are selling or who they are selling it to.
“There is no doubt they are dangerous, and I am aware that there has been asbestos found in this brand.
“I would warn any smoker tempted to buy them in the hope of getting a bargain not to because they could be inhaling anything.”
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, the anti-smoking campaign, said: “All cigarettes, even legal ones, kill.
“Your average packet of 20 bought down the local shop contains a horrendous list of poisons and toxins used in preserving dead bodies, batteries, industrial solvents and chemical weapons.
“Illegal cigarettes are such a danger because many sellers have no qualms selling to children, which makes it easier for them to smoke, expose their lungs to these poisons and sows the seed of a new generation ending up on our hospital wards.”
The packets are yellow in colour, with the words Jin Ling and USA emblazoned across the front.
Anyone with any information should call the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 or email email@example.com.
Hartlepool’s trading standards team can be contacted on (01429) 523362.