Specially trained tobacco detection dogs were pounding the streets of Swindon on Wednesday 28 October in a bid to ask for the public’s help in tackling sellers of illegal tobacco.
A survey in Swindon revealed almost nine in 10 adults are aware of cheap illegal cigarettes or tobacco and more than a third think the issue and its impact on the local community is very important.
Illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to start smoking because it’s sold at cheap prices and the trade is also known to attract criminals who can have links to organised crime.
Although only one in five said they were likely to report someone if suspected of selling cheap illicit cigarettes or tobacco, this figure increases to more than half if they were specifically selling to children.
Trading standards officers from Swindon Borough Council, supported by Smokefree South West, were joined by canine crime fighters Scamp, Phoebe and Yoyo at an awareness raising stand in the town centre at Wharf Green from 10am until 1pm followed by Cavendish Square, in Park South, from 2pm until 4pm.
The ‘Keep it Out’ campaign is touring locations across the South West and aims to help people know what illegal tobacco looks like as well as its dangers, along with encouraging them to be vigilant and report any cases of it being sold in their neighbourhood.
Now in its fifth year, the campaign is making headway with the number of smokers buying illegal tobacco falling from 20% to 16%.
However, it’s still a clear issue in Swindon. Of those surveyed who smoke, more than 5% said that half (50-59%) of their tobacco usage was illegal – double the South West average of 2.7%.
Cllr Brian Mattock, Swindon Borough Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, said: “Tackling the sale and supply of illegal tobacco is important because smoking sadly remains one of the UK’s biggest killers. We know that the availability of cheap, illicit tobacco makes it both easier for children to start and harder for people to kick this lethal habit. By helping people to understand the issue and encouraging them to report any suspected instances or information, we will stand a greater chance of stamping out this trade which causes considerable harm to people’s health and whole communities.”
The South West campaign is part of the wider Tackling Illegal Tobacco Programme which unites local authorities with HMRC, Trading Standards, police forces, Scambusters, Crimestoppers and other key partners to tackle this issue.
Andrea Dickens, Deputy Director of Smokefree South West, said: “If you see it, please report it, this isn’t about some ‘harmless bootlegging’, it’s about keeping criminals out of your neighbourhood and children and young people safe from harm and a potentially deadly habit. There is a lot of work being done across the region to tackle illegal tobacco but we need the public support to help us. Please tell us about where illegal tobacco is being sold, either in person at our mobile illegal tobacco unit, go online or via our hotline.”
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 Illegal Tobacco Hotline (operated by the Tackling Illegal Tobacco for Better Health Partnership) on 0300 999 0000. They cannot trace your call and will never ask for your name.