MORE than half of the people who smoke in Wales have bought illegal tobacco, according to the findings of an investigation.

The extent of illicit tobacco trade in Wales has been laid bare after an investigation showed 59 per cent of smokers in the country have bought illegal cigarettes or illegal hand rolling tobacco.

A survey of 1,000 smokers in Wales, conducted for Japan Tobacco International (JTI) by Atomik Research, also found that one in two smokers (48 per cent) say that they have been offered illicit tobacco in the last 12 months.

Other findings from the survey showed:

- The biggest concern for most people responding to the survey (59 per cent) is the increased health risks due to unknown ingredients. Some counterfeit tobacco products have been found to contain asbestos, mould and rat droppings.

- Only 35 per cent of people are concerned that they might be funding organised criminal gangs, and only 20 per cent have concerns that they might be damaging legitimate retailers.

- More than half (61 per cent) would not report even if they see illegal tobacco being sold.

- In addition, mystery shopping carried out by JTI revealed a third (32 per cent) of stores visited were selling illegal tobacco. The typical price for a counterfeit 50g pack of illegal hand rolling tobacco was either £4.50 or £5 versus around £21.60 for genuine products.

The UK government estimates that illegal tobacco makes up around 15 per cent of the cigarette market and 28 per cent of the hand rolling tobacco market in the UK. This has resulted in £2.5bn of lost tax revenue in 2016/7, with a total revenue loss of £43.5bn since 2000-2001.

Steve Wilkins, JTI’s Anti-Illegal Trade Operations Director and former Detective Chief Superintendent at Dyfed Powys Police, said: “Smokers buying cheap fake cigarettes and tobacco on the streets of Wales may be getting more than they bargain for as fake imitations have been found to contain asbestos, mould, dust, dead flies, rat droppings and even human excrement.”

“The vast majority of retailers are the ‘gatekeepers’ for age-restricted products and they help to ensure that children do not get hold of tobacco products. Unfortunately, the criminals who sell illegal tobacco within our communities do not operate a ‘No ID No Sale’ policy and will sell to all-comers, including children.”

“Illegal tobacco is damaging our local community, funding organised crime and undermining local businesses. We all have a role to play to combat the issue and JTI calls on retailers and members of the public to join our Don’t Be Complicit In Illicit campaign and help rid the streets of illegal tobacco.

"Anyone with information about this type of crime should visit or contact HMRC’s Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”