Consumption of illicit cigarettes at an all-time high, says PMI

The northeast of England has seen the highest concentration of counterfeit and contraband cigarettes

Consumption of illicit cigarettes at an all-time high, says PMI

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 (PMI), revealed 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% in 2022 to reach 21.2% in the UK, with the northeast of England seeing the highest concentration of counterfeit and contraband cigarettes.

The supplier said 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.

It added that nearly four in 10 smokers say increased living costs have impacted their purchasing habits, where they are now choosing to buy ‘cheaper’ (illicit) tobacco.

One in 12 independent convenience stores selling illicit vapes

While 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 products developed by the black market have evolved beyond traditional tobacco products to include illegal disposable vape devices too.

Cem Uzundal, head of field force UK and Ireland for Philip Morris Limited, said: “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.”

“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.”

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