People who supply illegal tobacco – which often leads to children getting hooked on smoking - are to be targeted through a new campaign.

The Keep It Out campaign aims to raise awareness of the harm done to under-18s and the wider community by the dealers and suppliers who provide cheap cigarettes.

Illegal tobacco is known to be a major cause of children taking up smoking. It also undermines the attempts of adults to give up smoking.

Suppliers are also breaking the law because tax is not paid on the illegal tobacco. This cheats people who pay tax through legitimate sales and it cuts revenue for spending on services such as the NHS.

In 2018/19 trading standards officers across Greater Manchester seized 804,000 illegal cigarettes and 146 kg of illegal hand rolling tobacco from 99 premises. It is estimated that the total loss to the UK economy from duty and tax evasion on cigarettes and tobacco is £2.5 billion.

Research carried out by Trading Standards North West found that nearly a quarter of young smokers in Greater Manchester bough cigarettes they knew were illegal. Six in 10 purchases by under 18s of illegal tobacco were made at local shops.

The Keep It Out campaign, which will launch on Monday 20 May and run for four weeks, will include:

  • Leaflet drops targeted to around 300,000 homes in neighbourhoods where trading standards officers suspect illegal tobacco is being sold, urging people to provide information anonymously to Crimestoppers
  • Advertising and campaign messaging online and on radio
  • Face to face outreach from council trading standards officers to retailers who sell tobacco
  • Public outreach events where trading standards teams will explain the issue to the public and allow them to meet the dogs who can sniff out hidden contraband.

A crackdown on illegal tobacco is part of Greater Manchester’s strategy to cut smoking rates by a third by the end of 2021. This is faster than any other major global city and would mean 115,000 fewer smokers.

Scott Crosby, Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership’s tobacco strategic lead, said:

“We know some people might turn a blind eye to under-the-counter sales of cheap cigarettes.

“But people who sell illegal tobacco don’t care if they sell to children. Those children, in their communities, then get addicted and risk all the health harm that tobacco does.

“Experts calculate that for every three young people who try smoking, one will eventually die from a smoking-related cause.

“Stopping illegal tobacco is an important part of our plan to make smoking history and help people to live healthier lives in Greater Manchester.”

Kate Pike, Trading Standards North West lead on tobacco, said:

“The availability of illegal tobacco not only harms health but brings crime into our communities. People may think they are just getting a bargain – what they don’t see is the complex network of organised criminals which are involved in the trafficking and sale of tobacco. We will take action wherever and whenever we find illegal tobacco being sold.”

Dr Louise Brown, a respiratory medicine consultant from North Manchester General Hospital, said:

“Unfortunately I am all too aware of the harms caused by tobacco.

“Most of the patients who I see with smoking-related illness got addicted to tobacco while they were under the age of 18. Once young people start smoking it’s really hard for them to stop – as many as two in three teenagers who try cigarettes will go on to become regular smokers.

“I really want to reduce the number of patients I see having their lives shortened by smoking.

“Tackling illegal tobacco prevents children from getting hold of cigarettes and reduces the access to cheap tobacco that can undermines adults’ quit attempts.”

People are being urged to report information anonymously about tobacco being sold illegally to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or at keep-it-out.co.uk.

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