An undercover operation has exposed the shocking extent to which illicit tobacco can be purchased from stores and online for just £4.50 per 20-pack.
Retail Newsagent was given exclusive access to a crackdown in an east London borough commissioned by Philip Morris during which hundreds of pounds worth of counterfeit, smuggled and illicit white cigarettes were bought from four stores in just three hours.
The operation also exposed the ease with which these products can be bought online, with a bulk purchase of illicit white tobacco in a Morrisons car park set up through a Lithuanian-language London chat room.
“You can see from the quantity of tobacco we’ve purchased that it is very easy to obtain in this area. It’s not just retailers, but internet sellers and people who don’t usually sell tobacco,” said Will O’Reilly, a former detective chief inspector from Scotland Yard who, since 2011, has been investigating the illicit tobacco trade.
The investigators who work with Mr O’Reilly across the UK are rarely unable to purchase illicit tobacco wherever they go, despite working without tip-offs.
One of the team – who cannot be named – said his eastern European nationality made accessing tobacco even easier.
“You speak a little Polish or Ukrainian and people don’t think anything of selling it to you,” he said.
Moments later we witnessed an elderly newsagent taking counterfeit Benson & Hedges from an empty outer casing on top of a shelf and handing two packs to the same team member for just £5 each.
In total, the undercover team walked away with 17 packs of premium illicit tobacco as well as a carton with a total estimated retail value of more than £250.
The haul has been taken away for analysis to confirm the products’ origin and will help tobacco manufacturers and UK law enforcers in the fight against the illegal trade.