Illicit tobacco

The effects that illegal tobacco has on the community are serious, help keep it out of our community by reporting anything suspicious you see. Find out more here.

Illicit tobacco is any tobacco product that has been smuggled, bootlegged, or counterfeit. This includes cigarettes, hand-rolling tobacco, and niche products (such as blunts and Shisha).

Where does illicit tobacco come from 


These are generally legitimately-manufactured tobacco products which have evaded payment of tax by being illegally transported, distributed and sold.

Bootlegged, also known as ‘illicit whites’

Tobacco products which are purchased in a country with a low level of taxation and illegally brought into the UK, evading payment of tax.


These are illegally-manufactured tobacco products which are often made abroad, but sometimes in the UK. They are sold cheaply and tax free and vast profits are made throughout the supply chain.

The effects of illicit tobacco

Illicit tobacco harms our local communities in many different ways

  • It damages local businesses by undercutting them with cheap prices.
  • It is often sold alongside drugs and other counterfeit goods, bringing criminal activity to the area.
  • It helps young people start smoking at an early age and discourages people from quitting.
  • It increases the risk of house fires, as illegal cigarettes do not meet the same safety standards as legitimate products.
  • It costs the NHS billions of pounds every year in treating smoking-related health conditions.
  • It brings criminal activity to the area, helping to fund crime and organised gangs.

How to identify illicit tobacco

  • No "UK Duty Paid" fiscal mark
  • Spelling mistakes and/or altered logos
  • Unfamiliar brands, labelling, or text
  • Price, if 20 cigarettes cost less than £3.50
  • Foreign or no health warnings/pictures

Where illicit tobacco is commonly sold

Illicit tobacco is normally sold cheaply from places such as

  • Pubs
  • Sunbeds
  • Car boot sales
  • Ice cream vans
  • Residential homes

Where to buy legitimate tobacco products

To ensure you are purchasing legitimate tobacco products, always buy from a reputable retailer who is less likely to sell illicit tobacco. 

Our aim

Knowsley Council is working with partners to

  • Disrupt and eliminate criminal organisations which deal in illegal and non-duty paid tobacco products.
  • Assist local agencies and other key partners to thoroughly investigate the importation and distribution of illegal and non-duty paid tobacco products.
  • Raise awareness of the harmful effects of tobacco products on young people, peers, and the Knowsley community.
  • Investigate and prosecute any person concerned in the sale or supply of tobacco products to any child.

Selling illicit tobacco

Did you know that if your employees are involved with illegal tobacco sales at work, it is you who could face prosecution? Turning a blind eye is not an option. It is your responsibility to ensure that illegal tobacco sales are not taking place on your premises.

The sale of illegal tobacco products is a serious crime, and it can have a number of negative consequences for your business, including fines up to £5,000. 

Report illicit tobacco 

Any information received about manufacturers, importers, distributors, businesses or individuals dealing in illegal alcohol products will be investigated by Trading Standards. Action will be taken against those found to be breaking the law and this can include prosecutions.

You can report it anonymously to the Illegal Tobacco Helpline on 0300 999 0000 or online via

Who to Contact

  • Knowsley Council  
  • Citizens Advice consumer helpline
    • 0808 223 1133. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Lines are closed on bank holidays.
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