The illicit tobacco trade has hit an alarming level of sophistication with the emergence of a comprehensive pricing structure and even counterfeit versions of illicit ‘cheap white’ cigarettes.

JTI head of communications Jeremy Blackburn told C-Store that counterfeit versions of well-known cheap white brands such as Chinese make Jin Ling had been found in recent months.

“The people behind these developments are serious businessmen in it for big bucks, and they don’t care who they trample on to get them,” he said. “We’re now even seeing the emergence of high- and low-grade counterfeit products which command different price points, which is really worrying.”

High taxes and over-zealous legislation had provided illicit traders with the optimum conditions in which to operate, he added. “Increasing layers of legislation are just creating more business opportunities for criminals to profit from,” he said.

A tobacco display ban is due to be enforced in large stores in just over five months, depending on the outcome of a Judicial Review in February. The Government is also expected to consult on plans to adopt plain packaging.