HEALTH chiefs today admitted the illegal tobacco trade was hampering their bid to get smokers in Blackpool to quit.
As revealed in yesterday’s Gazette, cheap, untaxed and often counterfeit cigarettes are being sold cheaply out of ‘Fag Houses’ or by community ‘Robin Hoods’.
Trading standards, health officials and police have teamed up to raid properties in Grange Park and seize illegal cigarettes and tobacco.
The threat of lethal tobacco – often laced with toxic chemicals including rat droppings and battery acid – is worrying for health bosses.
They say cheap tobacco is keeping many people smoking who would otherwise consider quitting due to the cost of bonafide cigarettes bought over the counter.
Chris Lewis, tobacco and alcohol officer at NHS Blackpool, said smoking was the main concern for public health with a third of residents addicted to tobacco – much higher than the national average of 21 per cent.
One Blackpool resident dies every day due to smoking-related illnesses.
Mr Lewis said: “It makes our job so much harder when you see cigarettes and tobacco being sold so cheaply on the streets.
“If smokers can get tobacco at knock down prices it makes it tougher for them to quit and easier for children to start.
“Then there is the problem with the high levels of toxic chemicals in fake tobacco and when one in two hand rolled packs of cigarettes are illegal it is extremely worrying.”
Dominic Blackburn, Blackpool community safety and drugs officer, said the crackdown on illegal tobacco would also look at the routes being used to bring tobacco into the country.
He said: “It will be intelligence led and we hope to work with the young people themselves to find where they are buying these counterfeit goods.
“It’s going to be a long process, but we have to get the public switched on to the fact one of the main reasons kids are smoking is because of this industry.”
A campaign has been launched by social marketing company The Hub which is working to highlight the issue of counterfeit and illegally smuggled tobacco in northern communities.
A poster campaign has already begun in Blackpool to raise awareness of the products being sold on street corners.
Former Blackpool councillor Sue Ridyard said: “The cheap price is really attractive to people on benefits but the chemicals in these can potentially make them four times more deadly than normal cigarettes.
“Statistics provided by the Hub were terrifying, especially regarding the number of pregnant teenagers in Blackpool who smoke.
“The packs of tobacco are designed to make them look incredibly realistic so the message is, don’t risk it.”