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Illegal tobacco

Our Trading Standards Service together with Health Challenge Caerphilly have launched a campaign to encourage residents to report sales of illegal tobacco and cigarettes. 

What is illegal tobacco?

Illegal tobacco products, including cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco, can be categorised into three types: -

  • Smuggled (also known as 'illicit whites') which are foreign brands brought into the UK illegally to be sold on the black market
  • Bootlegged, which are brought into the UK from Countries with lower tax and illegally resold
  • Counterfeit (fake), which are cigarettes manufactured without authorisation of the rightful owners, with the intent to deceive consumers. They are cheap cigarettes that are made to look like popular UK brands.

All tobacco products are harmful. Whether they are bought legitimately from a retailer or illegally on the black market, all tobacco products contain over 4,000 chemicals, at least 60 of which are known to cause cancer.

One in two long-term smokers will die as a result of their addiction.

Spotting illegal tobacco

The tell tale signs are:

  • Unusual taste
  • Foreign brand names such as Raquel and Jin Ling
  • Cheap price (less than £5 for a pack of 20)
  • Health warnings on cigarette packaging might not be in English, might not display a picture, might not be printed on a white background and may have different sized lettering to usual
  • Unusual packaging (spelling mistakes, wrong logos, discoloured packaging)
  • The print quality of the detail on the cigarette is noticeably worse

Cheap tobacco gets kids hooked
Cheap tobacco gets kids hooked

  • Sold at pocket money prices, cheap tobacco makes it all too easy for our children to smoke and become addicted
  • Dealers often target underage smokers, making it easier for children to get hooked. In fact, young smokers are more likely to be offered illegal tobacco than adults
  • The trade in cheap, illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to smoke and brings crime into local communities
  • Illegal cigarettes and tobacco are usually sold at half or even a third of the price, in a range of locations such as pubs and clubs, shops, from private houses or from street hawkers car boot sales and markets.

All tobacco, both legal and illegal, kills half of all long-term smokers. We know that most smokers want to give up smoking but their quit attempts are really undermined if somebody offers them a cheap supply of tobacco.


Caerphilly Trading Standards, working in partnership with HMRC seized illegal tobacco and cigarettes with a street value of £28,000 last year. In 2017 – 2018 we seized a total of 42,600 illicit and counterfeit cigarettes and confiscated cash totalling in excess of £15,000 from sellers of these products. In a number of cases, the perpetrators were council tenants so were also issued with eviction notices.

Any information you can provide us is important because it helps us to identify those communities and manufacturers, importers, distributors, businesses or individuals dealing in illegal tobacco products. Trading Standards investigate these claims and action, including prosecution will be taken against those found to be breaking the law.

People involved in the sale or supply of illegal tobacco can face serious penalties:

  • Up to 10 years in prison
  • Unlimited fine
  • Any illegal tobacco and the vehicle used for transportation can be seized
  • Proceeds of the crime can be seized, whether it's money or the confiscation of high value assets, such as jewellery, cars and property
  • Loss of job and poor employment prospects due to a criminal record

Report it

People involved in the sale or supply of illegal tobacco are criminals. Help us stub out this criminal activity by reporting anyone you suspect involved to our Trading Standards Team.

Quit it!

If you need help to quit smoking go the Help me quit website.

Contact us