During the next four months, Philip Morris’ new field sales force team will visit 6,500 retailers to present the company’s recently-launched anti-illicit trade initiative.

The Ex-It programme is designed to increase the awareness of the illicit tobacco trade. It will encourage retailers and consumers to report illegal sales or suspicions to HMRC or Crimestoppers.

Philip MorrisAccording to HMRC figures, illegal tobacco costs the taxpayer £2.1bn a year. A mid-range estimate is that 10% of cigarettes and 35% of hand-rolling tobacco is now illegal.

Gerald Margolis, sales director for Philip Morris Limited, said: “We hope that the Ex-It programme will raise awareness of this criminal activity and that by working together we can all play a part in tackling it.”

Retailers will be given stickers, leaflets and posters that assure customers that all their tobacco stock is legal.

Philip Morris’ sales force formed after its distribution agreement with Imperial Tobacco ended last October.