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Reducing availability and supply

Reducing availability and supply

Reducing the availability and supply of illegal tobacco, as well as the supply of legal tobacco to children, are important aspects of efforts to reduce smoking.


While all tobacco is harmful and costs lives, illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to start smoking and brings crime into our neighbourhoods.


Fresh works with local, regional and national organisations across England to tackle the supply of illegal tobacco and reduce demand, build strong partnerships and track the size of the illegal tobacco market.


We co-ordinate the Illicit Tobacco Partnership - an alliance between Fresh, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS) to work with local authority trading standards teams, police and HMRC.


Fresh developed England's first major insight-led campaign back in 2010 to reduce demand among smokers, encourage local people to report illegal sales and engage the public, involving tooks to tackle the trade such as shopkeepers and pub landlords. The Keep It Out campaign was re-launched again in 2017 using the latest insight from local communities across the North and has generated hundreds of pieces of intelligence for trading standards, resulting in raids and seizures. Visit the Keep it Out campaign website.


The role of big tobacco


Major tobacco companies have an extensive history of facilitating the illicit trade. By the late 1990s, it was estimated that one third of global annual cigarette exports could not be accounted for via legal distribution routes. Despite the tobacco industry knowing that cigarette smuggling increased sales to children, documents from the Truth Industry Documents Archive and other evidence has shown the extensive involvement of the industry in facilitating smuggling by shipping huge quantities of cigarettes to 'smuggling hubs'. The cigarettes were then forwarded via these hubs via the black market, often back to the countries from where they were shipped {1}.


Tobacco companies regularly claim the illegal tobacco market is out of control, however figures show the illegal tobacco market has reduced since around 2000 thanks to tougher action internationally, nationally and locally.


In 2013 the Public Accounts Committee accused the tobacco industry of continuing to fuel tobacco smuggling and urged HMRC to get tougher with tobacco companies who massively oversupply oversupplying nations with low tax rates, knowing the products will find their way back on to our shores on the black market


An investigation published in June 2018 by the University of Bath claims that "growing and diverse sources of evidence indicate that the tobacco industry remains involved in tobacco smuggling and that tobacco industry cigarettes account for around two-thirds of the illicit cigarette market."


{1} For more information about the tobacco industry's role in smuggling, visit the Tobacco Tactics website, a project of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the Department for Health at the University of Bath.


The illicit tobacco market in the North East


In the North East we have been tracking the size of the illegal tobacco market since 2009 through independent research. The survey of over 3000 people from across the North East has found in 2017:


  • Illicit makes up 12% of all tobacco smoked - a smaller proportion than in 2009 (16%) but slightly higher than in 2015 (9%)
  • Less than one in five (18%) of smokers buy illicit – a reduction from 24% in 2009
  • The proportion of smokers who have tried illicit tobacco has decreased from 46% in 2011 to 37% in 2017
  • Those smokers who do buy illegal tobacco are buying more of it - it makes up 58% of their overall tobacco compared to 40% in 2013
  • Private addresses are the leading source (42%) followed by shops (24%).
  • Less is now being bought in pubs - but pubs are still the place where smokers are most likely to be offered it by hawkers touting it around