More than three in four smokers are now purchasing tobacco from non-duty paid sources, according to the latest annual report into the illicit trade by the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association

The record figure shows a 5% increase in non-duty tobacco-purchasing since 2016, with the number of tobacco customers purchasing from pubs, street sellers, friends, while on holiday or duty-free UK shops all on the rise. Comparatively, the number of people purchasing tobacco from newsagents fell by 5%.

Legitimate London stores were likely to lose the most trade, with 85% of smokers in the capital buying non-duty cigarettes in the past year. Northern Ireland had the second-highest rate of non-duty paid smoking, at 80%.

The number of people aware of illicit tobacco sales in their area also increased by six points to 26% – the first major rise since 2014. The average price of an illicit 20-pack has also grown to £4.33.

TMA director Giles Roca called for a review of tobacco taxation. Commenting on the latest stats he said: “We can see the direct impact that the Government’s taxation policy is having.”

However, far from reducing “sin taxes” such as those on tobacco, the Government is rumoured to be planning more. Instead, it is hoping tobacco track and trace legislation that comes into force in May 2019 will reduce the illicit trade. 

However, Kent Londis retailer Nishi Patel said: “Track and trace won’t tackle the pub and street trade, it will take more enforcement officers with more resources.”

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