Subscribe to our newsletter
High Contrast
Switch to highContrast

Identifying and Reporting Illegal Tobacco in 2023

How is London identifying and reporting illegal tobacco in 2023?

Learn how London Trading Standards, with assistance from the London Tobacco Alliance, deal with illegal tobacco in London’s communities.

Addressing illegal tobacco is vital in London’s efforts to become a smoke-free city by 2023. According to a 2013 survey, organised criminals in South East London sold over 114 million illegal cigarettes annually. The cigarettes had a value of more than £22m.

This article will discuss the risks associated with illegal tobacco. Additionally, it will cover London’s efforts to combat the sale of illegal items.

Additionally, it will provide information on how individuals can identify, report, and stay informed about illegal tobacco.


What is illegal tobacco?

Illicit tobacco is tobacco sold in the UK without paying excise duty, according to GOV.UK.

Criminal gangs typically import fake cigarettes illegally from Eastern Europe and commonly use cheaper materials in unhygienic locations for manufacturing.

Illegal cigarettes and fake tobacco contain harmful substances like legal tobacco but lack regulations.


Spotting fake tobacco products in 2023

Wondering how to spot fake tobacco? How do you spot fake cigarettes and illicit tobacco pouches?

Look out for unusual packaging that does not contain typical health warnings, spelling mistakes, discoloured packaging, or modified logos.

Be careful of things that taste strange, prices that are extremely low, and sales situations that seem suspicious. These suspicious sales situations include buying cigarettes from cars, personal addresses, or strange places.


The dangers of fake tobacco

Can fake tobacco harm you? Wondering what are the symptoms of smoking fake tobacco? Simply put, all tobacco is extremely harmful.

Smoking counterfeit products increases the likelihood of suffering from long term devastating health issues such as lung cancer.

Regardless of whether cigarettes or tobacco pouches are bought legitimately, these products contain over 5,000 chemicals, 60 of which are poisonous to humans. You can get help to quit smoking from Stop Smoking London.

Research on counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco pouches discovered high levels of toxic metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead.

Other substances from analysis of fake cigarettes conducted have also found traces of weedkiller, sawdust, and animal faeces.

How is London identifying and reporting illegal tobacco?

What is the impact of illegal tobacco in London’s communities and how can people report it? Learn how London Trading Standards, with support from the London Tobacco Alliance, spot fake tobacco products and pouches in 2023.

Reporting illegal tobacco sellers

Looking for information on how to report someone for selling illegal cigarettes?

Reporting suspicions about illegal tobacco trade in your area is simple. Either contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service or inform national Trading Standards who will investigate further.

Londoners concerned about individuals or businesses selling illegal tobacco brands and illicit cigarettes can also fill out the London Trading Standard anonymous reporting form.

Additionally, anyone with information about suspected tobacco fraud can contact HMRC on 0800 788 887 or search ‘Report Fraud HMRC’ on GOV.UK.


The UK’s stance on illicit tobacco

What are the penalties for selling illegal tobacco in the UK? It is a criminal offence to sell illegal tobacco that can result in prosecutions, fines, and Closure Orders.

The UK Government takes the illicit tobacco trade incredibly seriously and has recently announced stricter tobacco control measures to combat fake cigarettes and heavier legal sanctions for those found selling illicit products.

Trading Standards also have the legislative power to act on any individual, premise or employer should they be found guilty of being involved and profiting from illicit tobacco.


Statistics and seizures

A survey titled Illicit Tobacco in South East London found that illegal tobacco accounted for more than 15% of tobacco consumed in the area.

According to the report, 40% of smokers purchased illegal tobacco whereas more than half of the cigarettes and tobacco pouches they bought were believed to be counterfeit.

In the summer of 2023, London Trading Standards seized illicit products with a street value of more than £15,000 in Barking and Dagenham. 28,860 cigarettes were recovered from three premises, resulting in one of the biggest seizures of counterfeit goods in the area.

Internationally, Euromonitor International estimates that over 370 billion cigarettes are imported, manufactured, or counterfeited, cheating governments of a tax value of up to $40 billion each year.

Impact on communities and legitimate businesses

Illegal tobacco brings criminality into local neighbourhoods and makes it easier for children to begin smoking counterfeit cigarettes.

These illegally manufactured products from the illegitimate tobacco market target vulnerable members of the community such as young people, cash-strapped families, and vulnerable people.

Illegal tobacco products are known to have strong links to low-level criminals and organised crime groups including drug traffickers from abroad. These parties import fake goods to make money in the UK from people buying illegal goods for personal use or to sell.

The money exchanged funds further criminal activity and has links to other illegal activities such as money laundering and loan sharking.


Engaging with local organisations

 Dr Gerald Power, the author of the Illicit Tobacco in South East London report said:

“Criminal gangs are heavily involved in the trade and bring both illicit goods as well as drugs into the heart of our communities.

“We believe the availability of cheap illicit tobacco is also a significant factor in recruiting young smokers. traders don’t respect legal age restrictions.”

Following a seizure of more than 28,000 fake cigarettes in June 2023 by Trading Standards officers, Councillor Syed Ghani, Cabinet Member for Enforcement and Community Safety said:

“Alongside the recent court rulings we’ve secured, I hope it sends a clear message that we will continue to crack down on companies who think they are above the law and that the rules don’t apply to them.”



The presence and consumption of illicit, cheap tobacco presents a substantial risk to the well-being and safety of the public.

Additionally, it exacerbates the issue of organised criminal activity.

With the ongoing increase in tobacco taxes, individuals are frequently enticed to explore more affordable options to foot their smoking habit – directly aiding the supply chain of the black market tobacco industry and promoting illicit trading.


References and resources

 How do I report someone for selling illegal tobacco? You can help stop illegal tobacco by reporting cases to local authorities via:

You may also like

View all Resources
Sonya Dixon, Bluegrass Research

Crucial insights gained from in-depth interviews with London smokers

Read more
Dr Chris Streather

Interview with Dr Chris Streather on achieving Smokefree 2030

Read more
London Skyline

London Tobacco Alliance Annual Report 2022/23

Read more

Get in touch to let us know that you would like to join the London Tobacco Alliance. For regular updates, sign-up for our newsletter too.