A huge rise in the use of black market tobacco is putting Fylde coast residents at risk, experts have today warned.
Organised crime gangs are blamed for flooding the streets of Blackpool with illicit cigarettes that have helped fuel a 50 per cent rise in the amount of counterfeit and contraband tobacco being consumed.
A report published by KPMG found Fest – the brand investigators found easiest to get hold of in the resort following a recent sting operation – now makes up almost half of the most dangerous type of illegal tobacco in the UK.
Illicit whites – like Fest –are cigarettes that are manufactured solely for sale on the black market.
Will O’Reilly, a former detective chief inspector with the Met Police who ran the investigation in Blackpool earlier this year, said the findings were “absolutely a concern”.
He said the difference in price between legal and illegal tobacco – which can be found as cheaply a £3 per pack in the resort – is one reason for the rise in people turning to the black market.
He added: “It is also organised crime gangs seeing this as a lucrative business sector.
“The more available you make illicit tobacco, the easier it is for kids to buy it – it’s creating a generation of smokers.”
Mr O’Reilly, whose team carries out investigatory work all over the country for Philip Morris International (PMI), which manufactures Marlboro cigarettes, said: “We are seeing no let up in this.
“It’s becoming more and more blatant. The concern is the rise in illicit white brands – God knows what is in them.”
The report estimates black market tobacco cost the UK £2bn last year in lost tax.
‘The only people who benefit from the tobacco black market are crooks’
The annual KPMG report found more than one in seven packs of cigarettes in the UK are bought on the black market.
The study showed a huge rise in the number of illegal cigarettes coming from Pakistan and Belarus has fuelled increased consumption.
Marlboro remains the single largest counterfeit brand coming into the UK, followed by John Player Gold Leaf. Fest is the largest illicit whites brand being brought into the UK and makes up 40 per cent of all those coming into the country, and 70 per cent of those coming from Belarus.
James Barge, from Philip Morris Limited, which helped fund the study, said: “The KPMG report’s findings are very concerning.
“The illegal trade in cigarettes is not a victimless crime. It harms governments, taxpayers, consumers, and manufacturers.
“The only people that benefit from it are criminals.”