A test purchasing operation by JTI discovered that more than a third of tobacconists in Stoke-on-Trent were selling illegal tobacco products.

The manufacturer visited 48 stores in the city, of which 17 were selling counterfeit or smuggled tobacco products. An earlier survey by JTI revealed that 55% of smokers in the wider area said they had purchased illicit cigarettes and about the same amount would not report being offered illicit tobacco.

The undercover purchasing also showed illegal tobacco to be selling at less than half the cost of legal tobacco sold at RRP. The price of an illicit 20-pack was £3.50 while 50g RYO was just £4-£4.50, compared to approximately £21 for a duty-paid RYO pack of the same size.

The company’s anti-illegal trade director and former senior police officer Steve Wilkins heralded the work of responsible retailers in Stoke-on-Trent, but added: “Unfortunately, the criminals who sell illegal tobacco within our communities do not operate a ‘No ID No Sale’ policy and will sell to anyone, including children.”

Illicit tobacco sales cost the government £2.4bn in lost tax and duty last year. According to the Tobacco Retailer’s Alliance, the average independent shop loses sales worth £36,000 per year to the tobacco black market.

Wilkins reminded retailers with information about illicit sales in their area to call HMRC on 0800 788 887 or trading standards on 03454 04 05 06 to report it.

Read more: According to the British Soft Drinks Association, soft drinks are the next illicit trade threat