It’s well known that stopping smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health. But the harms of illegal (smuggled or fake) tobacco, to our health and our neighbourhoods, are less understood.

All tobacco, whether legal or illegal, contains a toxic cocktail of poisonous chemicals, that will kill one in two long term smokers. However, illegal tobacco is the first route into smoking for many of our young people and its cheaper prices undermine smokers’ attempts to quit.

You might not think illegal tobacco a big issue but research shows that one in five people who smoke purchase illegal tobacco and the human cost of these ‘cheap’ products is high with links to human trafficking and wider crime across our city region and beyond. That’s why we are working with partners across Greater Manchester to stop the illegal trade in tobacco.

Every day, across our city region, 13 people die too soon from a smoking related illness, that’s over 3,000 deaths to date in 2020. And for every smoking death there are 30 times as many people living with smoking related diseases. Smoking remains the leading cause of cancer (causing 16 different types) and causes cardiovascular disease, diabetes and respiratory disease.

We know that most people want to make smoking history for future generations (over eight in ten of those who responded to our survey in spring 2018 wanted to eradicate smoking, including half of all smokers) and we are working to achieve this ambitious aim. Official figures from the Office of National Statistics show smoking prevalence in Greater Manchester continues to decline and is at an all-time low. However, we need to work together if we are going to create a smoke-free future for everyone.

We’re engaging communities and families, including incentives to support smokefree pregnancies, showing people ‘You Can’ stop smoking, as well as through new support offers such as the latest mobile app and we want to stop children from taking up smoking in the first place.

Trading Standards research shows children start smoking at a very young age – before leaving primary school, there are children in Greater Manchester who are already addicted to a lethal product. But how do they get hold of cigarettes or tobacco when it is illegal to sell to children under the age of 18? Our research shows that between half and a quarter of young people have bought illegal tobacco, most often from local shops.

Illegal cigarettes are often responsible for getting children started on this lethal addiction, because of their availability at pocket money prices and because those who sell illegal tobacco don’t care if they sell to kids – we have reports of retailers selling to children in school uniform.

Many people ask just how much worse for your health illegal tobacco is than legal tobacco? The truth is that all tobacco kills. Whether bought legitimately or illegally, all tobacco products contain over 5,000 chemicals, over 60 of which are known to cause cancer. If you stop and think about that toxic cocktail of chemicals being inhaled into the lungs, then it’s clearly wrong to suggest that legal tobacco is safer and of a ‘higher quality’. A High Court judgement in 2016 recognised there is no difference in the harm presented by any brand of tobacco.

We are encouraging people who care about local families and their neighbourhoods to anonymously get in touch with any information about where illegal tobacco is being sold. Since the current campaign began a couple of weeks ago there has been a welcome increase in reporting resulting in five raids to date and two seizures of illegal tobacco.


Please report at or via the Crimestoppers line, 0800 555 111.


Smokers can visit to find information and details of stop smoking services and support across all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester or call the NHS Stop Smoking helpline free on 0300 123 1044.



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