Illegal tobacco is bought by more than half of teenage smokers in Hartlepool

Published Tuesday, 31st October 2017

Illegal tobacco has helped over half of underage smokers in the North East get hooked on smoking, a new survey released today suggests.

55% of children aged 14 and 15 who smoke say they buy illegal tobacco from sources like "tab houses" and shops - while 73% say they have been offered illegal tobacco.

The figures, from the 2017 North East Illegal Tobacco Survey, are released as Fresh launches the new "Keep It Out" campaign aimed at helping the public to spot illegal tobacco, report it and to encourage smokers not to buy it.

Keep It Out

As well as helping children to start smoking, people supplying illegal tobacco are often involved in drugs or loan sharking. Buying it means supporting crime and can bring children into contact with criminals.

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, Leader of Hartlepool Borough Council and Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “The Council gives its full support to the Keep It Out campaign, which is working to eradicate the purchase and selling of illegal tobacco across the region.

“Progress has been made, but we still need to keep downward pressure on the illicit tobacco market to crush this destructive criminal trade for good.”

Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones, Hartlepool Council’s Interim Director of Public Health, said: “Over half of underage smokers in the North East believe easy access to illegal cigarettes helped them to get hooked on smoking.

“This is staggering, especially when compared with data which estimates one in two long-term smokers are killed by their addiction. By purchasing illegal tobacco you are not only funding criminal activity, but you are supporting a trade that encourages children to become hooked at younger ages.

“While progress has been made, illicit tobacco makes up 12 percent of all tobacco smoked in the North East. We urge all Hartlepool residents to help Keep It Out by remaining vigilant, reporting suspicious activity, and turning their back on the illegal tobacco trade.”

Ian Harrison, Trading Standards and Licensing Manager at Hartlepool Council, said: “Illicit tobacco trade brings crime to local neighbourhoods, and we want to stamp it out by encouraging open conversation in communities where it is bought and sold.

“Both smokers and non-smokers can play their part by reporting suspicious activity to tackle possible sources of supply, and reduce the demand by raising awareness of the dangerous trade users are supporting.

“Our Trading Standards team does not and will not hesitate to act upon intelligence and take sharp and strong enforcement action on those who are found to be selling illicit tobacco.”

Ailsa Rutter, Director of Fresh, said: "One in two smokers will die from their addiction, and no-one wants their child to start.

"While fewer people than ever are now smoking, illegal cigarettes are often responsible for getting children initiated on smoking as they can buy it at pocket money prices from people who don't care who they sell to."

Peter Wright, from the North East Public Protection Partnership, said: "People might think they are getting a bargain, but illegal cigarettes comes at a very high cost to local communities and buying it means supporting it.

"A lot of people kid themselves they're buying duty free. But the trade is linked to organised crime and at the top are organised criminals with UK smokers in their sights. Local criminals also regularly come into neighbourhoods to supply their dealers.

"Even if you don’t think local sellers are selling to kids, many are, and there is strong intelligence of kids in school uniforms buying from tab houses.

"Whether people smoke or not, we're urging people to do something about it and report it anonymously.

"If you are keen to report suspicious activity or would like further information, please contact Hartlepool Borough Council’s Trading Standards team on 01429 523362 or alternatively email

Anyone with information about houses, shops, pubs or individuals selling illegal tobacco can give information online at or by calling the illegal tobacco hotline at 0300 9990000. All information will be treated anonymously.

The survey of over 3000 people from across the North East has tracked the size of the illegal tobacco market since 2009 and attitudes towards it. The breakdown for Tees, has found in 2017:

• Illicit makes up 10% of all tobacco smoked - a smaller proportion than in 2009 (16%).

• Less than one in five (17%) of smokers buy illicit – a reduction from 26% in 2009

• 32% of smokers who try illegal tobacco – a decrease from 46% in 2011.

• Those smokers who do buy illegal tobacco are buying more of it - it makes up 56% of their overall tobacco compared to 52% in 2013.

• Private addresses are the leading source for illegal tobacco sales in Tees, (47%) followed by pubs and clubs (29%) and shops (10%).

Shopkeeper John McClurey, a former North of England President of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, said: "Most retailers would not dream of stocking illegal tobacco or selling to children, and are very angry about the illegal tobacco trade. Most of us will find these figures concerning.

"There is a strong case for tougher penalties against those who sell it as a deterrent and to weed out the few bad apples in the retail trade without conscience."

Fresh is calling on the Government to introduce a licensing system for tobacco manufacturers and retailers to provide funding for improved enforcement and other measures to reduce smoking prevalence. The measure would be popular in the North East with 76% of adults strongly in favour of businesses needing a valid licence to sell tobacco.