An undercover investigation, aired on Welsh national television earlier this week, has highlighted the scale of Wales’ illicit tobacco problem.
According to the exposé on S4C’s current affairs programme Y Byd ar Bedwar, 15% of all the tobacco sold in Wales is thought to be illegal, higher than any other region in the UK.
Counterfeit and smuggled tobacco is being sold at “pocket money prices” across the country, the programme said, with proceeds being used to fund organised crime.
The programme’s cameras followed trading standards officials as they conducted raids in stores and homes across Powys and Cardiff.
On the streets of the capital, illegal tobacco worth over £5,000 was found in five stores.
Some had gone to “great lengths” to hide the stock, with one store having concealed it in a hole in a wall, hidden behind a mirror.
Head of Powys Trading Standards Clive Jones said the illicit tobacco trade was 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,” he said.
“Those gangs aren’t just based in Powys, they’ve got links nationwide. It’s organised criminality stretching over other parts of the UK. Money isn’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.”
Undercover Y Byd ar Bedwar journalists were also easily able to purchase illegal cigarettes from two out of nine stores that they entered in Cardiff.
On both occasions they were sold ‘cheap white’ ‘Jin Ling’ cigarettes for £3.
Operational manager for the Shared Regulatory Service, Christina Hill, said that more needed to be done across Wales to tackle the growing problem with illegal tobacco.
“We receive more intelligence now than ever before in relation to the supply of illicit tobacco. Authorities need to be working together to tackle the issues we have to hand,” she said.
“It’s quite clear this is a front for organised crime and we are just touching upon the surface of the issue that’s upon us at the moment.”
Anti-smoking charity ASH Cymru was recently commissioned by the Welsh Government to scope a possible programme on illegal tobacco - as highlighted in the Tobacco Control Delivery Plan for Wales 2017-20.
The Welsh Government has set a target of lowering the number of smokers from 19% of the population to 16% by 2020.