THE county council has joined forces with a national crime unit to crack down on the trade of illegal tobacco.
Hampshire County Council (HCC) yesterday launched a week of educational roadshows aimed at highlighting the public’s role in clamping down on the illicit product.
It comes as figures from HMRC show illegal tobacco currently makes up about 10 per cent of the UK tobacco market, with 39 per cent of hand-rolled tobacco being illicit.
As a result, the government misses out on millions of pounds in tax every year – but this could be reduced by public tip-offs, says BWY Canine tobacco detection dog-handler, Stuart Phillips.
Getting the Keep It Out roadshow under way in Solent Road in Havant yesterday, he said: ‘The effects of illegal tobacco trade can be very dangerous.
‘Aside from the health risks, it is often sold to young people at pocket money prices with those funds then going toward serious organised crime – including terrorism, in some cases.
‘These roadshows are all about education and we want people out there who might be aware of this trade to contact us and report sellers anonymously.
‘Trading standards can then carry out visits and inspections where necessary.’
Categorised by smuggled, counterfeit and bootlegged goods, illegal tobacco is known to be sold online, at people’s homes and under the counter at some stores.
By running this roadshow in 2016, inspectors seized more than £1,000 in illegal tobacco from Hampshire shops – also gaining more than 17 pieces of intelligence related to illicit trade across the county.
Jointly organising the fixture, Sarah Preece, senior public health practitioner at HCC, said: ‘We need to encourage people not to buy illegal tobacco so we can keep it out of our community.
‘From our perspective, all tobacco carries a health risk – but the problem with illegal tobacco is how cheap and accessible it is.
‘That price then makes it unlikely people will quit smoking.’
With 180,000 estimated smokers in Hampshire, the cost of smoking to society in the county is about £33,600,000 every year – including healthcare, loss of business productivity and dealing with cigarette waste and fires.
Smoking also causes about 100,000 early deaths in the UK each year.
The Keep It Out roadshow – which also features appearances from trained tobacco detection dogs – will be at Portchester Market tomorrow and Eastleigh Town Centre, on Thursday, between 9.30am and 3.30pm.
To report the selling of illegal tobacco anonymously, visit keep-it-out.co.uk/anonymous-reporting or call the confidential Illegal Tobacco hotline on 030 0999 6999.