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    No investigation in four years for illegal tobacco by at least nine councils, FOI data reveals

    Illegal tobacco and non-compliant vapes seized from Rushden shops (Photo: North Northamptonshire Council)

    At least nine local authorities nationwide did not start a single investigation into the sale of illegal or counterfeit tobacco products from 2018 to 2022, a new research has found.

    The nine authorities were: Calderdale, East Dunbartonshire, Isle of Anglesey County Council, Rochdale, Havering, Lambeth, City of London, Kingston upon Thames, and York.

    Other councils, such as Hull, have taken robust action to tackle the issue, with 249 investigations and 53 prosecutions, more than any other council. Middlesbrough was also relatively active in this area, with 416 investigations, and 15 prosecutions.

    Responses to Freedom of Information requests sent to 96 councils across England and Wales have shown significant variation between the approaches taken by local councils.

    Councils in London (Kingston), Manchester (Rochdale), Wales (Isle of Anglesey County Council), and Scotland (East Dunbartonshire) were amongst those taking no action.

    Commenting on the data, Sarah Connor, communications director at JTI UK, said: “Some councils’ poor enforcement of existing laws raises doubts about their ability and capacity to enforce a more complex generational ban. Illegal tobacco is already a significant issue, and the generational ban has the potential to worsen this, by driving adult smokers to buy cigarettes from organised gangs.”

    The government is consulting on a proposal to raise the smoking age by one year every year, potentially phasing out smoking among young people almost completely as soon as 2040.

    JTI noted that lack of action by councils will ‘undoubtedly lead’ to increased sales of illegal tobacco, which is often linked to organised crime, and contributing to the large tobacco tax gap.

    This gap, as estimated by HMRC, is the difference between the amount of tax that should, in theory, be paid to HMRC, and what is actually paid. Since 2018, £9.3 billion in tax revenue has been lost in this way. In 2021-22, alone, the tax gap was £2.2 billion.

    According to the Police Federation, £2.2 billion could pay for more than 77,000 new police officers.

    Top performers

    Local AuthorityLocationThe number of investigations the Council has initiated into the sale of illegal or counterfeit tobacco products (2018-2022)The number of successful prosecutions the council has secured regarding the sale of illegal or counterfeit tobacco products (2018-2022)
    Middlesbrough CouncilTeesside41615
    NewhamLondon Borough2560
    HullYorkshire and Humber region24953
    Newport City CouncilWales1737
    Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough CouncilWales17218
    StockportManchester1722
    ManchesterManchester16118
    Waltham ForestLondon Borough1566
    DoncasterYorkshire and Humber region9327

    Bottom of the league

    Local AuthorityLocationThe number of investigations the Council has initiated into the sale of illegal or counterfeit tobacco products (2018-2022)The number of successful prosecutions the council has secured regarding the sale of illegal or counterfeit tobacco products (2018-2022)
    CalderdaleYorkshire and Humber region00
    East DunbartonshireScotland00
    Isle of Anglesey County CouncilWales00
    RochdaleManchester00
    HaveringLondon Borough00
    LambethLondon Borough00
    City of LondonLondon Borough00
    Kingston upon ThamesLondon Borough00
    YorkYorkshire and Humber region00

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