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    One-in-five cigarettes smoked in the UK is illicit – PMI

    Illicit cigarettes seized from Piotr I Pawel store on Duckworth Lane, Bradford (Photo via LDRS)

    An independent report into the consumption of counterfeit and contraband cigarettes across the European Union and the UK by KPMG, commissioned by Philip Morris International, reveals that consumption in the UK has risen, increasing to 3.61 billion in 2022 – the highest volume seen by the study since it launched in 2011.

    Despite overall cigarette consumption declining, illicit consumption rose by 3.1 per cent in 2022 to reach 21.2 per cent in the UK, with the Northeast of England seeing the highest concentration of counterfeit and contraband cigarettes.

    This rise in illicit cigarette consumption, particularly counterfeits, spotlights the increasing number of adult smokers turning to illicit tobacco as a more affordable option in this period of economic uncertainty and pressure. Nearly four in 10 smokers say increased living costs have impacted their purchasing habits, where they are now choosing to buy “cheaper” (illicit) tobacco.

    Whilst the report focuses on cigarettes, PMI’s test purchase visits across the UK – carried out by a specialist team commissioned to help gather evidence and intelligence on illicit products, which is then passed to trading standards – have highlighted how products developed by the black market have evolved beyond traditional tobacco products to include illegal disposable vaping devices too.

    “We’re concerned to see that the trade of illicit tobacco and nicotine-containing products in the UK is growing and more needs to be done to tackle the issue,” said Cem Uzundal, Head of Field Force UK and Ireland for PML.

    “Our undercover operatives regularly visit retail premises the length and breadth of the UK, gathering intelligence that’s shared with trading standards to assist their efforts, but we know they are understaffed and under resourced. We therefore need to look at getting everyone working together.

    “The findings from this report also emphasise why it’s crucial manufacturers and retailers work together to both increase availability and communicate the affordability of smoke-free alternatives to adult smokers in the UK, so they avoid turning to harmful counterfeit options. PMI has invested US$10.5bn in the research and development of science-based, smoke-free products and applies scientific methods – inspired by the pharmaceutical industry – to ensure every product adheres to the highest manufacturing standards and strict quality control measures. This approach extends to our expanding multi-category portfolio of smoke-free products in the UK, which includes IQOS – the UK’s number one heat-not-burn product.”

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