England

Cigarettes illegally sold over the counter in Sussex

Counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes are being sold in High Street shops in Sussex, a BBC investigation has found.

Covert filming uncovered the illegal trade in four stores in Hastings in East Sussex.

The Tobacco Retailers Alliance (TRA) said counterfeit cigarettes put the health of smokers at a greater risk because they did not meet UK standards.

Illicit cigarette sales are estimated to cost the government more than £2bn a year in lost revenue.

The TRA also said the illegal trade damaged law-abiding shopkeepers' businesses.

The BBC South East investigation found packs of 20 cigarettes being sold for £2 to £3, less than half of the average UK price of legal brands, at four locations in Hastings.

Smuggled cigarettes from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia and fake UK brands were sold to three undercover reporters.

Amber Rudd, Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, said: "I think everybody's aware that it goes on to a limited degree, although we don't want it to.

"But the idea of it being sold over the counter in newsagents is really quite shocking.

'Losing legitimate sales'

"There's a lot on the agenda that requires money and anything that eats away at the £11bn that's legitimately raised from tobacco sales is hurting the economy of the country."

Bob Fenton, from the TRA, warned that counterfeit cigarettes were not made to the same standards as legitimate brands.

He said: "You're at great risk if you start smoking counterfeit brands because no-one knows what's in them."

Mr Fenton also said the cigarettes from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia that the BBC reporters bought could not be legally sold in the UK because they did not have the correct health warnings on their packets.

Kent shopkeeper Debbie Corris, who is also a member of the TRA, added: "We're losing legitimate sales, we lose the footfall coming through the door. It affects all retailers in a big way."

'Knockdown price'

Bob Gaiger, of HM Revenue & Customs, said: "Low-cost tobacco products can often seem very attractive to local people, who believe they are buying genuine products at a knockdown price.

"The illicit trade has a devastating impact on legitimate retailers and the local community.

"We all pay extra to compensate for the money these criminals steal and with the economic challenges being faced by businesses and the public, our focus must remain relentless to deter and disrupt the illegal trade."

None of the shopkeepers filmed selling counterfeit or smuggled cigarettes wanted to comment on the BBC's investigation.

BBC South East said it would be talking to Sussex Police about its findings.

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