Black market tobacco sellers are employing the tactics of drug runners to make sales and thwart police stings, a C-Store investigation has revealed.

Our survey of convenience stores and market stalls in North London revealed widespread awareness of the illicit tobacco traders, who are becoming increasingly difficult to apprehend.

“Two or three years ago it was easy for officials to catch the sellers out, but they are now using sophisticated concealment and payment methods, making it much harder,” Tobacco Manufacturers Association (TMA) security liaison manager Robert Fenton told C-Store.

Illicit traders have taken to stashing stock in street furniture such as bins, benches and awnings rather than carrying it around. ‘Runners’ are also used to collect stashed stock and payment. 

With the illicit tobacco trade now more lucrative to criminal gangs than illegal drugs, the number of legitimate retailers being intimidated into storing stock for gangs is also thought to be on the increase, Fenton added.

TMA figures show a marked increase in the levels of counterfeit cigarettes and “cheap whites” being bought from illicit sources in the past 12 months. 

“Tests on these cheap cigarettes have revealed high levels of carbon monoxide and tar, but at just £3 a pack cash-strapped smokers are prepared to pay the price,” Fenton added.

London’s streets are currently being flooded with a new type of cheap white cigarette called Hamilton. Packs are currently changing hands for £2.50.

Fenton also warned that the problem was likely to get worse following the return of VAT to 17.5% on January 1, which has added up to 18p to a pack of 20 cigarettes. “Further price rises in the legitimate market will play directly into criminals’ hands, delivering a further blow to the law-abiding trade,” he added.