Last night’s excellent Panorama on BBC One – Smoking and the Bandits – shows there are two clear losers with the current developments in the illegal tobacco trade. Everyone is familiar with the argument that the government loses out through an estimated £15bn of illegal tobacco sales going untaxed. Less well known is that the 22% of the UK public who do smoke take on a highly increased health risk if they consume counterfeit tobacco which typically has 30 times the level of lead contained in legally produced tobacco. As the programme’s expert explains this amounts to consuming 30 cigarettes for every one smoked – so a 20-a-day roll-up smoker would be smoking the equivalent of 600 cigarettes a day!
Only 6% of illegal cigarette and tobacco sales are now genuine contraband, the majority of illegal tobacco and cigarettes are produced in underworld factories in China. Long gone are the days of placing an order with the bloke in the pub who hires a van to drive over to Calais to stock up on fags.
This is high level crime on a par with Class A drug dealing, with all the ruthless and nasty tampering that goes with it, think heroin cut with strychnine, think tobacco cut with lead. Joe Public still has a Robin Hood view on tobacco smuggling. The government, retailers and tobacco companies all need to do their part to make the public aware of these risks.
Video available until 8:59PM Tue, 6 Mar 2012