Retailers in the city are being routinely offered packs of 20 cigarettes for £1. The counterfeit tobacco - smuggled from Eastern Europe and the Far East - contains toxic levels of arsenic, tar, nicotine and lead. They are also difficult for authorities to detect because the packaging is indistinguishable from the real thing.
The gangs are offering bulk consignments of leading-brand fakes, which can be sold for a profit of about £1.50p a pack. But retailers say they're fed up with being hassled.
Ken Patel, who runs Wyvern Stores and is also a national spokesman for the Tobacco Alliance, has been approached by the gangs. He said: "This is a growing problem and these people are making huge profits by selling dangerous cigarettes."
Another shopkeeper, who asked not to be named, was twice offered 'Marlboro Lights' - "I told them to get out. They've not been in since," he said.