Local authorities have been accused of putting public health at risk by refusing to act on information to stop the sale of illegal cigarettes – purely because it has been supplied by tobacco manufacturers.

Benson & Hedges manufacturer JTI said a growing number of councils had signed up to a charter which sought to ensure that they were not working in partnership with tobacco companies.

But head of corporate affairs Paul Williams said the Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control was being misinterpreted.

He accused them of allowing criminality to flourish and said black market traders were far more likely to sell to children.

Pointing to a recent example, Mr Williams said: “One local authority took all the information we provided, went out within a week, hit six premises we had identified and got six hits on illicit trade.

“The other one nearby wrote back and said ‘we will not take any action and we will not give you any feedback because you’re a tobacco company and we don’t work with tobacco companies’.

“They are actually putting the public at risk and the anti-smoking lobby acknowledges children are more likely to have access to tobacco because it’s an illegal source.

They are actually putting the public at risk and the anti-smoking lobby acknowledges children are more likely to have access to tobacco because it’s an illegal source

Paul Williams, JTI

“This local authority is prepared purely because of its stupidity of not wishing to be seen to be working with the tobacco industry, a legal industry, to allow criminality continue and flourish and take no any action.”

JTI declined to name the councils involved, saying it would rather work to build a relationship with them.

Anti-smoking pressure group Smokefree Action said 59 local authorities from a total of 326 had signed the declaration.

Action on Smoking Health chief executive Deborah Arnott told RN that she couldn’t comment on the claims unless JTI chose to reveal the name of the council.

But she added: “Authorities have to be careful about how they accept information because tobacco companies have a record of misusing it.”