Illicit tobacco

Who To Contact

Knowsley Trading Standards

Telephone: 0151 443 4712

Email: [email protected]


Illegal tobacco products are cigarettes, hand-rolling tobacco or niche products (such as blunts and Shisha) that have been smuggled, bootlegged or counterfeit. The effects that illegal tobacco has on the community are serious.

We know it is being sold in Knowsley and we need you to support the campaign and provide any information anonymously..

There are three sources of illegal tobacco:

  • Smuggled: 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.
  • Counterfeit: 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.

Illicit Tobacco is known to harm our local communities in many different ways:

  • It damages local businesses as they are being undercut by criminals selling illegal tobacco cheaply
  • Illicit tobacco is normally found to be sold alongside drugs and other counterfeit goods
  • It brings criminal activity to the area, helping to fund crime and organised gangs
  • Illicit tobacco helps young people start smoking from an early age
  • It discourages people from quitting smoking

Safety risks

There is strong evidence to show that illicit tobacco causes house fires. Illegal cigarettes do not meet the 'Reduced Ignition Propensity' safety standard. Since 2011, all cigarettes sold in the UK have to be manufactured to meet this standard which makes sure that cigarettes left unattended go out quickly using fire retardant paper.

Since illegal cigarettes are not manufactured legitimately, you can’t be sure if this safety method is being used, leading to cigarettes staying lit and fires occurring.

Effects on health services

As smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco are far cheaper (up to half or a third of the price of legitimate products) they greatly reduce the incentive for people to quit. This means that when people end up with a smoking-related health condition, it costs the NHS billions of pounds every year.

To spot illicit tobacco, look out for the following:

  • Complaints about smell/taste
  • 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

Illicit Tobacco is normally sold cheaply from places such as:

  • Pubs
  • Sunbeds
  • Carboot sales
  • Ice cream vans
  • Residential  homes

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

Our aim

Working with our partners, we aim 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.

Information for local businesses

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 it is not taking place. The sale of illegal tobacco products within your workplace is not a victimless crime, so please don’t become the victim by allowing it to continue as you could face a fine of up to £5,000.

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Information we receive from the community is important because it helps to target enforcement activities effectively.

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

If you do have any information about anyone you suspect is selling illicit tobacco, you can report it anonymously to the Illegal Tobacco Helpline on 0300 999 0000 or online via You can also contact Knowsley Council Trading Standards on 0151 443 2281 or [email protected]

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