A mystery shopping operation by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has found illegal cigarettes on sale in 61 per cent of convenience stores in the Bolton area.
The firm said test purchasers acting on its behalf were able to buy illicit tobacco in 19 out of the 31 stores visited in the summer.
The latest operation follows from JTI’s first test purchasing operation in Bolton in 2018, which also found a similar rate, with 62 per cent of stores visited (23 out of 37) selling illicit tobacco.
“Selling illegal tobacco damages legitimate business, supports criminal organisations and makes it easier for young people to get hold of tobacco products, and the results from our latest test purchasing shows how entrenched the illegal tobacco trade is in Bolton,” commented Ian Howell, UK anti-illicit trade manager at JTI.
The operation revealed that packs of illegal cigarettes are being sold for as little as £4.50, half the price of the cheapest legal product. Counterfeit 50g packs of RYO could be purchased for as little as £5.00, around one fifth of the price of the genuine product.
JTI added that a quarter of cigarettes and half of RYO tobacco consumed last year in the North West was not subject to UK taxes, according to consumer research commissioned by the firm, making it one of the highest regions in England for levels of non-UK duty paid consumption.
The ‘Keep It Out’ campaign by the Trading Standards and the recent enforcement action has seen two Bolton retailers losing premises licenses this summer. JTI said it has provided details of the test purchases to Trading Standards and HMRC
“Law abiding retailers are at the front line of the fight against illicit tobacco, and therefore we urge any retailer that suspects illegal tobacco is being sold in their area to contact the relevant authorities to help root out these criminals,” Howell added.
JTI has recently launched free-to-use online tool on its anti-illicit trade website, helping retailers to find out how their local area is affected by the problem. The website can also be used to report any information related to the sale of illicit tobacco.
Retailers or the public may also use HMRC’s Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887, Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 to report the issue.