Trading Standards target Gloucester's illegal tobacco trade
SHOCKING new figures show one in five smokers in Gloucestershire have tried illegal cigarettes smuggled into the county.
Trading standards say the black market economy for bootleg cigarettes is worth more than £200 million a year in the south west alone.
Children and those living on a shoe-string budget are being targeted by criminal gangs who supply 'tab houses' to feed illegally imported cigarettes into communities.
Enforcement officers from Trading Standards in the county say they are struggling to stay ahead of the suppliers in the lucrative trade.
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The county unit is focusing on town centre shops in Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud.
Tobacco seizures are tested by industry experts, often showing dangerous levels of tar and carbon monoxide. Traces of rat droppings and sawdust have also been found in some cases.
South West spokesman for HM Revenue & Customs, Bob Gaiger said: "The trade in illegal tobacco across the South West is a very real problem, one we are tackling, but there is more still to be done.
"Illegal tobacco is often the first stage in a chain of illegal trades that fund criminality.
"These criminals smuggle tobacco and cigarettes illegally into the country.
"Some of these will be counterfeit and will have been manufactured in completely unregulated environments to be sold at knock-down prices.
"They do not care about the impact on local businesses, your neighbourhood or your children's lives, targeting anyone and anywhere they can make money."
Help is available in Gloucestershire for smokers wanting to kick the habit.
Elaine Watson from the Gloucestershire NHS Stop Smoking Service supports those wanting to quit from the specialist centre in Southgate Street.
"We have been here since 2008, in the first week there were 10 people through the door now it is more like 200 a week," she said.
"It is a free service with behaviour support and also medication such as nicotine replacement therapy and we can reduce the cost with a prepayment certificate.
"We can help people to manage the triggers that get people to pick up a cigarette.
The sale of illegal tobacco is a criminal offence.
Anyone wishing to report the selling of illegal tobacco can report anonymously online to Trading Standards at www.stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk or call the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org.
Read more about Gloucester's illegal tobacco in Monday's Citizen.