Crackdown on illegal tobacco to help keep Stockport kids smoke-free

People in Stockport are being encouraged to help keep kids safe and smoke-free

By reporting illegal tobacco sales, often from ‘under the counter’ in local shops, so enforcement teams can take more products off the street.

New figures reveal that, while fewer adult smokers are now buying illegal tobacco (20% in 2018 compared to 16% in 2021), more 14–15-year-old smokers say they’ve been offered illegal tobacco (up from 10% in 2018 to 25% in 2021). These offers mainly come from strangers, potentially exposing them to other harms in addition to those of smoking itself.

The figures are from a new survey by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership which has tracked the size and scale of the illegal tobacco market following the introduction of its Making Smoking History strategy in 2018.
The latest Greater Manchester Illicit Tobacco Survey data coincides with the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership running another phase of the Keep It Out campaign across the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester in collaboration with Local Authority Trading Standards and enforcement partners, including the police, border force and customs.

The Keep It Out campaign is part of a wider multi-agency programme to reduce the supply and demand of illegal tobacco, highlight the true cost of these ‘cheap’ products and encourage people to report sales. This is because illegal tobacco is linked to organised crime, drugs, trafficking and the exploitation of vulnerable people. It also enables underage kids to start smoking, as people who sell illegal tobacco will sell to kids, and, through cheaper prices, prevents smokers from quitting a habit that kills one in two who do it.

Between April 2020 and March 2021, the Keep It Out campaign generated 11 reports of illegal tobacco being sold in Stockport which led to raids, shops facing closure orders and huge fines. Over 46,000 illegal cigarettes and more than 11kg of illegal hand rolling tobacco was seized by Trading Standards officers from across the borough.

Overall, the size of the illicit tobacco market has reduced significantly in the last decade. UK government data shows the estimated amount of illegal cigarettes consumed has reduced by half from 5 billion illicit sticks in 2010 to 2.5 billion in 2019. But illegal tobacco still remains an issue because it gets children and young people hooked, sometimes bringing them into contact with a wider criminal underworld.

Andrea Crossfield, Making Smoking History Lead at the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “The crackdown on illegal tobacco is part of Greater Manchester’s wider efforts to cut smoking rates and make smoking history for future generations. While it is encouraging to see fewer adults trying and buying illegal tobacco, it is worrying to see so many young people being offered it.

“All tobacco kills, but people who sell illegal tobacco sell to kids, getting them hooked on a lethal addiction and cheaper prices undermine smokers’ quit attempts. Whether legal or illegal, all tobacco contains a toxic cocktail of chemicals which will kill one in two long term smokers. It’s not just about the impact on our health though, the illegal tobacco market is fuelled by organised crime groups and that’s why we’re raising awareness of the harm it brings to our neighbourhoods too, and encouraging people to report illegal sales to keep our kids safe and smoke-free.”

Councillor Jude Wells, Cabinet Member for Adult Care and Health at Stockport Council, said: “We are committed to stamping out illegal tobacco in Stockport, but we need the public’s help to identify the criminals putting the health of our communities at risk.

“People might think illegal tobacco is a victimless crime, but buying it means funding the organised crime groups who bring it into the country and who are also linked to drugs and people trafficking. These people profit from keeping smokers addicted and enabling children to start smoking.
“Information provided by residents and businesses allows our Trading Standards team working with local police to investigate and take enforcement action against those selling illegal tobacco, so we are encouraging people to use the Keep it Out contact information to confidentially report it to us.”

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