Illegal tobacco found in Glasgow shops by undercover ex-policeman


PRIVATE investigators discovered even more illicit tobacco sold under the counter in local stores.

We recounted last week how joint operations by Scottish Police, Glasgow City Council, HMRC and Trading Standards uncovered 200,000 illegal queers in three parts of the city.

Today a retired Scotland Yard detective revealed how his undercover work found illicit tobacco in other locations in Glasgow.

Former Chief Inspector Will O’Reilly and his team found contraband at Govan, Govanhill and Gallowgate.

He has now passed this information on to the city’s trade standards bosses for further investigation.

Will said: “One of the main parts of my role is to organize test buying activities in the UK and Ireland, but we also work around the world.

“We use a small team of two or three people who all have training in undercover work.

“And we go out and talk to smokers on the streets and look at stores such as betting shops or corner stores, or pubs, that may sell illicit tobacco.”

In Glasgow, Will and his team visited Allison Street and Victoria Road in Govanhill, Duke Street, Gallowgate, Govan Road, Paisley Road and Shaw Street where they made 33 purchases of illicit tobacco offered in shops and pubs.

One store had a fake sign behind the counter to hide contraband and in some places up to 20 different brands.

Will’s work is paid for by tobacco giant Philip Morris, which has sparked some controversy in recent years by renaming itself a health and wellness company.

It finances clandestine tobacco operations in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

A new report from KPMG, funded by Philip Morris, shows counterfeiting and smuggling of tobacco increased by 66% in Scotland during the lockdown in 2020.

And illegal cigarettes now represent 15% of all cigarettes smoked in Scotland.

But that figure is the lowest in the UK, with the highest being 34% in the north-east of England.

Will says there are multiple dangers caused by illicit tobacco, from being a gateway for children to smoke, to increased health hazards and the fact that it generates money. for organized crime.

He said: “Every pack of illicit cigarettes that someone buys from someone in an irresponsible pub or retailer, that money will end up in the hands of organized crime groups.

“They can sell cigarettes one day, drugs the next, and smugglers another day.

“This is a loss for the taxpayer of £ 2 billion every year.

“Children and youth are the most likely to start smoking while smoking illegal cigarettes, and these cigarettes are much more dangerous and unregulated.

“They were found to contain rat droppings, human droppings.

“There are no fire retardant bands on them, so they’re much more dangerous – they come down to the filter, there’s a flame and the next thing the couch is on fire.”

Brexit and containment have also “changed the parameters” of the illicit tobacco trade with a drop in the number of people bringing cigarettes from overseas for sale.

Will said: “You used to see a proportion of regular smugglers or people bringing it back from vacation, but now organized crime gangs are stepping into that void and producing illicit cigarettes.

“We have seen a lot of illicit cigarettes coming from Ireland to Scotland.

“You can make a pack of cigarettes for less than 20p, but sell them for £ 5 or £ 6. You can make millions of cigarettes in a very short time once you are up and running, you can make a lot of money in a short period of time.

Glasgow Times: Boo, a tobacco detector dog pictured with illicit tobacco products in a secure location in Glasgow.  The items Boo helped find have been seized by standard trade officers from premises in Glasgow over the past two months ... Photograph by Colin

“The risk versus the reward is quite low. If you get caught with a kilogram of coke you could face up to 20 years in prison, but if you get caught with illegal cigarettes you could get away with a fine.”

And social media has created a new forum for people selling illegal cigarettes – a platform that cops find it much harder to tackle.

Often times, social media groups are private and need to be introduced, making them difficult for police to infiltrate.

Will said: “It’s a mobile feast because people can change labels and band names, but often selling it on the internet is the easiest way to do it.”

KPMG’s new annual report showed counterfeit cigarettes peaked in five years in the UK, up 9% from 2019.

A Glasgow City Council spokesperson said: “Our trade standards officers are working hard to disrupt and stop the sale and distribution of potentially harmful illicit tobacco and counterfeit cigarettes to the public.

“It’s a business that harms communities and endangers the health and well-being of unsuspecting consumers.

“Any work that disrupts the illegal sale of dangerous tobacco products is welcome. ”

How to spot illegal cigarettes:

• packages without image health warnings

• fully marked packaging not in standardized neutral packaging

• packages with foreign language health warnings

• the packs displaying the same code based on each pack which is supposed to be unique.

• stock kept out of sight in stores and away from ordinary tobacco display cases

• low cost compared to normal cigarettes – for example, a pack of 20 illegal cigarettes can cost as little as £ 4-5

• unusual or foreign brand names

• availability in unusual places, such as pubs, market stalls, private homes and internet vendors.

There are three main types of illegal cigarettes.

COUNTERFEIT CIGARETTES: These are produced in illegal factories, increasingly here in the UK. These are the most likely to contain harmful contaminants and lack safety features.

CONTRABAND: These are genuine products which have been smuggled into the UK from another country with lower taxes.

ILLEGAL WHITE: These are cigarettes that have been legally manufactured in another country (Belarus is a major exporter) but smuggled across borders without any tax being paid.

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