Millions of cheap, illegal cigarettes containing lethal substances are flooding the UK and undermining efforts to reduce smoking rates, councils have warned.
Many of the fake fags contain asbestos, arsenic, rat droppings, mould, dead flies and human excrement.
The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, has called for bigger fines on those selling illegal cigarettes, which is said to cost the economy £2billion a year in unpaid duty.
Illegal cigarettes are undermining efforts to reduce smoking rates, councils say
Sniffers dogs have been used by councils to find counterfeit tobacco from the streets, while recent prosecutions resulted from illegal stashes of cigarettes found hidden in walls, shops floors and secret panels.
Trading Standards officers have found illegal hauls hidden in toilet cisterns, boxes of sweets, behind extractor and and lighting.
Simon Blackburn, chairman of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: ‘The sale of cheap, illegal tobacco by rogue traders in shops, private homes and through social media is funding organised criminal gangs and damaging legitimate traders, as well as making it easier for young people to get hooked on smoking, which undermines councils’ efforts to help people quit.
‘No cigarette is good for you, but fake cigarettes contain even higher levels of cancer-causing toxins than standard cigarettes, so people should think twice about buying them.
‘Counterfeit cigarettes also fail to extinguish themselves when left to burn, presenting a real danger to people.
‘Bigger fines need to be imposed by the courts to deter the sale of illegal tobacco to help councils’ enforcement work against rogue traders, reduce crime in our communities and protect the health of children and young people.’
Consumers who are concerned about any tobacco product on sale are encouraged to report the matter to the Citizens Advice Consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06.
Police dog is so good at sniffing out illegal tobacco that smuggling gangs have put a £25,000 bounty on his head
A £25,000 bounty has been placed on a sniffer dog’s head after nailing a string of criminals who illegally smuggled cigarettes and tobacco into the country.
Springer spaniel Scamp is now lying low after the bounty was placed on his head.
His incredible sense of smell has proved to be a thorn in the side of criminals, as Scamp has sniffed out £6million-worth of illegal tobacco in just five years.
Criminals placed the bounty on Scamp after a string of court cases in Birmingham, Sussex, Newcastle, Northampton and Great Yarmouth.
Springer spaniel Scamp is now lying low after the bounty was placed on his head
Owner Stuart Phillips, 40, of Llandissilio, Pembrokeshire, said Scamp was a big threat to criminals looking to smuggle goods into the country.
Mr Phillips said: ‘We had to stop working in one part of the country last year, because there was a £25,000 bounty put on his head.
‘It was believed to be linked to an organised crime group and the relevant authorities were informed.
‘I’ve also had death threats, my windscreen has been smashed and my tyres slashed.
‘It’s understandable really, when you’re upsetting some really nasty people.’
Mr Phillips, of B.W.Y Canine Ltd, has trained specialist detection dogs to sniff out tobacco, firearms, drugs, explosives, meat and even human remains.
He has worked with more than 100 local authorities across Britain and other international clients.
Tobacco smuggling has left Scamp and Mr Phillips with a huge workload.
He said: ‘It is a massive problem in terms of the volume available and the fact that it’s so readily available in shops.
Scamp was trained to be able to sniff out illegal contraband which had been smuggled into the UK
‘It’s available on social media, through Facebook, and in Wales we have what are generally called fag houses, people selling from their houses.’
Cigarettes are sold at ‘pocket money prices’ – making them readily available to children. The cigarettes have a dark history as they are often linked to serious organised crime.
An experienced sniffer dog like Scamp has been trained to find everything from a single cigarette to a whole pallet’s worth.
The dog has also been trained to sniff out bank notes and has even uncovered as much as £60,000 in cash.
Trading Standards officers are calling for a government taskforce to tackle the problem – warning illicit tobacco sellers target Wales due to a lack of investment in enforcement.
A survey by Action on Smoking and Health in 2014 found that around one million illegal cigarettes a day are sold in Wales – the highest in Britain.