A campaign to encourage communities to report illegal “under the counter” tobacco is back, after the quantity of cigarettes and tobacco seized increased by eight times in just five weeks.

During the Keep It Out campaign, which took place in April and May this year, almost 640,000 cigarettes and 153kg of rolling tobacco were seized by Greater Manchester Trading Standards.

This is nearly as much as all the illegal tobacco seized last year in all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester (804,000 cigarettes and 145kg of rolling tobacco).

Reporting of illegal tobacco by the public across Greater Manchester saw a similar rise, with 10 times as many reports being made than normal. Trading Standards across Greater Manchester received an average of 30 reports a week during the campaign.

Trading Standards believe the dramatic increase shows that local people want to protect the health of their children and stop crime in their neighbourhoods by providing the information needed to begin an investigation.

The next stage of the campaign will run for four weeks and focus on neighbourhoods where Trading Standards suspect illegal tobacco is being sold.

The campaign includes: targeted leaflet drops and online, social media and radio advertising, as well as advertising inside buses and on phone kiosks.

Illegal tobacco is known to be a major cause of young people starting smoking and undermines adults’ attempts to quit, as it is often sold at very low prices.

Research carried out by Trading Standards North West found that nearly a quarter of young smokers in Greater Manchester bought cigarettes they knew were illegal. 6 in 10 purchases by under 18s of illegal tobacco were made at local shops.

Illegal tobacco is smuggled and distributed by organised criminals, which means buying it also funds crime.

A crackdown on illegal tobacco is one part of Greater Manchester’s wider 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.

Andrea Crossfield, Population Health Policy and Strategy Specialist Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said:

“The Keep It Out campaign has shown us that local people care about their communities and the health of their friends and neighbours.

“By providing information to Trading Standards they have helped us increase the amount of illegal tobacco seized and helped protect people, especially younger residents, from the dangers it poses.”

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.”

The sale of illegal tobacco can be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers 0800 555 111 or at keep-it-out.co.uk.

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