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The products bought had been sold illegally as UK duty had not been paid

 A sting operation carried out by Japan Tobacco International in Bolton has found 61% of convenience stores selling illicit tobacco.

JTI mounted a series of mystery shops in the Lancashire town over the summer and its test purchasers were able to buy non-UK duty paid tobacco from 19 of 31 stores.

Packs of illegal cigarettes were on sale for £4.50 – half the price of the cheapest legal product – while counterfeit 50g packs of roll-your-own could be purchased for £5 – around one fifth of the price of the genuine product.

“Selling illegal tobacco damages legitimate business, supports criminal organisations and makes it easier for young people to get hold of tobacco products, and the results from our latest test purchasing shows how entrenched the illegal tobacco trade is in Bolton,” said JTI anti-illicit trade manager Ian Howell.

JTI ran its first test purchasing operation in Bolton in 2018 and found 62% of stores visited (23 of 37) were selling illegal tobacco.

Additional consumer research conducted for JTI also reveals that a quarter of cigarettes and half of roll-your-own tobacco consumed last year in the north west was not subject to UK taxes, making it one of the highest regions in England for levels of non‑UK duty paid consumption.

“JTI, along with Trading Standards, who are often supported by HMRC and the police, is committed to helping tackle the problem of illegal tobacco in the Bolton area,” added Howell.

“Trading Standards’ ‘Keep It Out’ campaign has continued to play its part, alongside recent enforcement action – including the revocation of premises licenses for two Bolton retailers this summer.

“Law-abiding retailers are at the frontline of the fight against illicit tobacco, and therefore we urge any retailer that suspects illegal tobacco is being sold in their area to contact the relevant authorities to help root out these criminals.”

ACS CEO James Lowman told The Grocer: “The illicit tobacco trade is extremely damaging to responsible retailers and any retailer found to be selling illicit tobacco should feel the full force of the law and where necessary be ceased from trading.”