Illegal tobacco sold at “pocket money prices” is a growing problem across Powys, an investigation has found.

S4C’s current affairs programme Y Byd ar Bedwar will tonight (Tuesday, April 10) examine the trade in illegal tobacco, estimated to account for 15% of all the tobacco sold in Wales - the highest proportion throughout any nation or region in the UK.

There are fears that illegal tobacco trade could be funding organised crime both here in Wales and throughout the UK.

The programme’s cameras followed trading standards officials as they carried out raids to take illegal tobacco products off the streets in Powys and Cardiff. In Powys, a raid on a domestic dwelling seized illegal tobacco worth over £1000. Some had gone to great lengths to hide the products.

Dyfed-Powys Police Constable Elin Green was there to support Trading Standards on a raid said: “They don’t fear the police, so they carry on. Trading Standards get involved and they do a great job processing it and taking it to court.

“If it happens here [in Powys] in a quiet place, it could happen anywhere so we hope we can get more information through doing things like this and we can get more warrants and get more things off the street.”

County Times:

Powys County Council’s Head of Trading Standards Clive Jones said the trade in illegal tobacco is a growing problem: “Over the last five years, we’ve found increasing criminality involved in the sale of illegal tobacco, with organised crime gang involvement in the sale.

"Those gangs aren’t just based in Powys, they’ve got links nationwide. It’s organised criminality stretching over other parts of the UK. Monies aren’t staying locally, it’s being spread around.

"It’s a surprise in an area where, until around five years ago, we didn’t really see this to be a problem.”

County Times: Clive Jones, Head of Trading Standards at Powys County Council

Illegal cigarettes are reported to have caused at least eight deaths in the UK. Campaigner Julie Grant lost her mother, June Buffham, in a house fire six years ago. June had been smoking an illegal cigarette when she fell asleep in her chair. Contrary to EU law, the cigarette did not have the self-extinguishing feature which is now required, resulting in a devastating fire.

Speaking to Y Byd ar Bedwar, Mrs Grant said: “I don’t believe anybody buying them knows what they’re buying. Most smokers believe they are buying regular cigarettes. What I feel they don’t know is the contents of the cigarettes, which from reports I’ve read can be anything from rat droppings to asbestos. But they’re also not aware of the fire safety risks.”

“I’ve got to keep trying to get the message across. It’s got to keep going on until people finally realise the dangers. Basically, don’t go out and buy them.”

Despite the risks posed by the products, Y Byd ar Bedwar journalists were easily able to purchase illegal cigarettes from newsagent stores in Cardiff. They entered nine premises and were sold illegal cigarettes in two stores. The cheapest pack of ‘Jin Ling’ cigarettes (an unknown brand probably originating from Russia) cost just £3. A legitimate packet of 20 cigarettes costs around £8-£12.

Anti-smoking charity ASH Cymru were recently commissioned by the Welsh Government to scope a possible programme on illegal tobacco. The Government have set a target of lowering the number of smokers here from 19% of the population to 16% by 2020.

But according to ASH Cymru Chief Executive, Suzanne Cass, the sale of illegal tobacco undermines measures put in place to lower the number of smokers in Wales:

“It’s sold at pocket money prices and we know that children are accessing the illegal tobacco. We’re hoping that we’re going to be able to inform a programme of development around tackling illegal tobacco in Wales. In places like the north-east and south-west of England, these campaigns have already taken place and been successful.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “ASH Wales was commissioned by Welsh Government to scope a possible programme on illegal tobacco as highlighted in the Tobacco Control Delivery Plan for Wales 2017-20. We are considering the draft report and a decision will be made later this year.”

Y Byd ar Bedwar: Dan y Cownter is broadcast tonight at 9.30 pm on S4C. English-language subtitles are available.