Illegal tobacco ‘brings crime into communities and undermines stop smoking efforts’

  • By JackGraves

Criminals are reaping in over £100 million a year from London’s trade in illegal tobacco and undermining efforts to support smokers to quit, trading standards and public health experts have warned.

Illegal tobacco products, such as cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco, are smuggled into the UK and are considerably cheaper than legal equivalents, with prices ranging from £3.50 to £7 per packet. Illegal tobacco is usually authentic tobacco industry brands but can be counterfeit, produced in the UK or abroad, and sold at rock bottom prices by unscrupulous criminals.

Selling single cigarettes is also illegal and is of particular concern. The availability of single cigarettes at ‘pocket money prices’ makes it easier for children to buy tobacco and to develop smoking habits. 

Research suggests around 15 per cent of cigarettes smoked in London come from illicit trade, with illegal tobacco sold in a range of locations across London – including private homes, pubs, and shops. Many of the criminals smuggling and selling illegal tobacco are also involved in drug dealing, money laundering, and people trafficking.

The warning from officials comes as the ‘Stamp IT Out London’ summer campaign against illegal tobacco gets underway, with Londoners urged to look out for illegal tobacco products and to report on the premises and individuals that sell it.

The campaign, which is supported by London Councils, the Mayor of London, London Trading Standards, Public Health England London, the London Association of Directors of Public Health London, and Action on Smoking and Health aims to make it less socially acceptable to buy and sell illegal tobacco.

A series of roadshows involving sniffer dogs, public health and trading standards officers, the Fire Brigade, stop smoking services and other partners will visit locations across London over the summer months, providing information to the public about the different types of illegal tobacco and the importance of stamping out the trade.

Cllr Jas Athwal, London Councils’ Executive Member for Crime & Public Protection, said:

“The threat of illegal tobacco should not be underestimated. Illegal tobacco brings crime into communities and makes it easier for young people to start smoking. It also undermines people’s efforts to improve their health by giving up smoking.

“London boroughs are continuing to fight against the sale and distribution of these dangerous products, with our trading standards and public health teams leading local clamp downs and raising awareness among our communities.

“Working together with our partners to stamp out illegal tobacco, we can make a healthier, safer city for Londoners.”

Dr Tom Coffey, Mayoral Health Advisor, said:

“The sale of illegal tobacco encourages young people to smoke, is harmful to health and threatens the safety of communities. It’s vital we work together to tackle this dangerous issue and I am pleased to support the Stamp IT Out London campaign.”

Steve Playle, Spokesperson for London Trading Standards, said:

"London Trading Standards takes illegal tobacco very seriously and have been working hard to reduce supply and demand.  We share intelligence on local businesses suspected of selling illegal products and will continue to carry out inspections using sniffer dogs to locate the interesting hiding places that are being used to store tobacco. 

“Roadshows have proven to be an effective way to gather intelligence from the public and it appears more and more people over the past few years have decided enough is enough and are providing information to stop local criminals selling and distributing illegal tobacco.  Those that break the law can expect enforcement action to be taken against them.”

Paul Plant, Interim Regional Director for Public Health England London, said:

“Tackling the scourge of illegal tobacco is a big part of reducing the health inequalities that we see between communities in London. All tobacco is harmful but the illegal sale of single cigarettes makes it easier and more affordable for young people to start smoking and discourages adults from quitting, perpetuating poor health across generations.

“Many of the people smuggling, distributing and selling illegal tobacco are also involved in drug dealing, money laundering and people trafficking, increasing the risk of harm to Londoners. Anyone who wants to quit smoking can get support through either their local stop smoking service or the stop smoking London website at”

Dr Somen Banerjee, Director of Public Health at Tower Hamlets and Vice Chair of London Association of Directors of Public Health, said:

“Smoking is a deadly habit that remains one of the main causes of preventable early deaths in the capital. The impact of illegal tobacco is a serious public health challenge, particularly among young people and in deprived areas of London. Access to cheap illegal tobacco makes it easier for young people to start smoking, with severe implications for their long-term health.

“This campaign is crucial for raising awareness of the dangers of illegal tobacco and reducing its availability. By working together to stamp it out, we’re creating a healthier environment for all Londoners.”   

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH, said:

“ASH welcomes the cross-London Stamp IT Out campaign. Illegal tobacco is a pan-London problem which is no respecter of borough boundaries. Working together makes perfect sense, reducing the cost and increasing the effectiveness of campaign and enforcement activities.”

Tell-tale signs of illegal tobacco include:

  • Packets with foreign language health warnings
  • No pictures or old-style health warnings
  • Being much cheaper than normal cigarettes (i.e. £3.50 - £7.00 per pack of 20)
  • Branded instead of plain packaging
  • Unusual or foreign brand names, such as Jin Ling – or those from Russia and the Far East.

If Londoners see any tobacco products that match the description above or have information which may be useful, they are advised to call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or report it online at:

Londoners can also access information and telephone support through the London stop smoking portal at:



Notes to editors:

  1. Illegal tobacco roadshows will take place in the following locations during the campaign:



Location of roadshow


29th June

Royal Borough of Greenwich

Royal Greenwich Get Together Community Festival and Armed Forces Day event - Woolwich


30th June


#MyWestminster Day - Paddington Recreation Ground


8th July


Ealing Road Library with dog unit and outside Eelapatheeswarar Aalayam Temple


11th July

Tower Hamlets

Outside Watney Market, Commercail Rd, London E1


15th July


Barnet Hospital


16th July



Tesco car park, 55 Morning Lane, London E9 6ND




18th July

Waltham Forest

Leyton Mills Retail Park


Leyton, London,


E10 5NH.


22nd July


Sutton High Street


23rd July


Ancient Market Kingston


24th July


Inverness Street market, Inverness St, Camden Town, NW1 7HB


25th July


Islington Town Hall, Upper Street, N1 2UD


26th July


Lewisham Shopping Centre near the market


29th July


Tunstall Rd, Brixton


31st July


Harrow Town centre


More details to be confirmed in due course. Please contact individual boroughs for information on local activities.