Boroughs across South East London have co-ordinated a plan of attack to curb the sale of illicit tobacco, after a report found that 114 million illicit cigarettes, worth £22m, were being sold in the region each year.

The report, Illicit Tobacco in South East London, which was commissioned by six South East London boroughs and surveyed 1,700 local smokers, also found that large quantities of illicit tobacco were being sold to under 18s.

Packs of 20 cigarettes were being sold for an average of £4 and 40% of the smokers questioned said that they had bought illicit tobacco in the last year.

More than 50% of the illicit tobacco being bought was also believed to be counterfeit.

Report author Dr Gerald Power said he believed the availability of cheap illicit tobacco was “a significant factor in recruiting young smokers.”

“Of the young people we talked to, 40% aged between 14 and 17 years old indicated they had bought these products. Illegal traders don’t respect legal age restrictions,” he said.

The new campaign, involving police, fire service, community safety and trading standards teams from Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark, aims to raise awareness of the health risks associated with the illegal tobacco trade, as well as its links to other crimes.

London Fire Brigade will also work to educate consumers of the dangers of house fires caused by counterfeit cigarettes.

New specialist teams are also being created to carry out more visits to premises thought to be selling illicit tobacco.

Councillor Richard Livingstone, cabinet member for finance, resources and community safety at Southwark Council, which is leading the campaign, said: “The sale of illicit tobacco can no longer go ignored. It’s time that we speak openly about the damaging effects the illegal trade has on our local communities and honest business owners.

“With the support of the five other local councils we hope to raise awareness about the grave dangers involved in its consumption and the criminal activities it is associated with.”