Four out of five smokers are buying illicit tobacco in parts of the UK, according to a Government investigation.

In its recent report, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Smoking and Health claimed the UK was “winning the war” against tobacco smugglers – but the survey also shows that up to 81 per cent of smokers in south-east London bought illicit tobacco last year.

Ian Paisley Jr, MP for the Democratic Unionist party, told Retail Express: “I honestly wonder what people are smoking if they think this crime is in decline. It’s a multi-billion pound crime affecting practically every schoolyard and young person across the country. One in four cigarettes smoked in Northern Ireland are counterfeit.”

illegaltobaccoIn addition, a fresh report carried out by KPMG for Philip Morris International has found that illegal cigarette levels reached a record level in 2012 across the EU – costing member states a total of  €12.5billion.

“Illicit trade is growing at a faster rate in the UK than anywhere else,” said Martin Inkster, Philip Morris managing director. “It has a big impact on retailers – not just their tobacco sales, but also associated sales that those customers bring in.”

The Government is currently considering whether to introduce plain packaging, but critics fear this would be a boon for smugglers because it would make counterfeiting the packaging far easier.

Mr Paisley Jr added: “Plain packaging proposals are based on emotion instead of evidence, the emotion being that if you change the colour of the pack from red or gold to green people will suddenly stop smoking. I just don’t buy it. Most children who start smoking are handed an individual white cigarette by a peer – not a branded pack.”

Conversative MP Priti Patel told Retail Express: “Plans to introduce tougher regulations on tobacco displays and plain packaging will only serve to give smugglers a boost while hitting retailers hard.

“Smuggled tobacco remains a serious problem in parts of this country with organised criminals profiting instead of retailers and the public purse.”

Stephen Williams MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, was not available for comment.

To anonymously report smuggled and counterfeit tobacco in your area call HMRC on 0800 595 000