Crackdown on illegal tobacco trade in Norfolk

Children are being put at risk because of the use of illegal tobacco across Norfolk, according to health and school bosses.

The warning comes ahead of a crackdown on the illicit trade, which will launched next week.

More than a third people in Norfolk have been offered illegal tobacco (34pc) and one in 10 admit to buying it, according to research carried out by East of the England Tobacco Control Team

The access to cut-price tobacco makes it easier for children and young people to smoke and can bring them into contact with criminals.

In response, an alliance of NHS Norfolk and Waveney, Norfolk Trading Standards and Norfolk County Council Schools Services is launching campaign on April 10 to raise awareness of the dangers of illegal tobacco.

Research shows that illegal tobacco is selling for less than half its official price in the East of England, and with studies suggesting young people may be up to four times more price sensitive than adults, this makes them a particular target. (Action on Smoking and Health

Dr Jenny Harries, joint director of public health at NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said: 'The criminal gangs that sell smuggled cigarettes are not concerned with who buys them; they do not care who they sell to including children and under age young people. Purchasing illegal tobacco brings other crime in to Norfolk and undermines legitimate businesses.'

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Independent research has shown that fake cigarettes being told in the UK can have higher levels of cadmium, lead, arsenic, tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide.

Rob Anthony, associate headteacher at The Hewett School, in Cecil Road, Norwich, said he was pleased to hear of the new campaign, as it was an issue of concern to all schools.

He said: 'There could be anything mixed in with these cigarettes and loose tobacco.'

Pupils at the Hewett are taught about the health effects of tobacco and are encouraged to not take up smoking, but if they do, the school nurse has a wealth of support and information to help them give up.

However, some children take up smoking even before they reach high school age.

Mr Anthony said: 'Some children do start at a ridiculously early age and my colleagues in primary schools say some are already smoking before high school. To have access to very cheap cigarettes is just appalling.'

He added: 'If we see tobacco in school we confiscate it and certainly some of the stuff we have been confiscating over the last couple of years has had foreign printing on it. It's clearly not being sold in English shops; the health warnings are in a foreign language and it doesn't smell anything like normal tobacco.

'Lord knows what it is and where they are getting it from.'

Local campaigners, including representatives from Norfolk Trading Standards and Norfolk County Council will be visiting Norwich's Castle Mall on April 19 and the Market Gates Shopping Centre in Great Yarmouth on April 17, 18 and 21.

Harry Humphrey, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for community protection, said: 'The health dangers of smoking have been well documented so everybody must be aware of the risks they are taking when they choose to smoke, yet still people continue to do so. It is particularly worrying when young people smoke, and the availability of illegal tobacco products can make it easier for young people to start smoking.

'Norfolk Trading Standards works hard to remove these illegal products from our communities; counterfeit products, such as tobacco, as well as not being genuine can also contain harmful substances.

'People can be drawn in to purchasing illegal tobacco because of its price. We want to make people understand how their actions might be impacting on their own communities; we all have a role to play in protecting our children and keeping illegal tobacco out of our communities.'

Representatives from groups across the community – such as children's centres, Stop Smoking Services and environmental health officers – are also using campaign materials to raise awareness of the dangers of illegal tobacco with those they come into contact with on a day-to-day basis.

The campaign is asking members of the community to:

TALK: Help stop the flow of illegal tobacco by telling friends and family about the issue

PLEDGE: To support the campaign against illegal tobacco

REPORT: To share any information about illegal tobacco in the area by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111

People can find out more and pledge their support by logging onto the campaign website at www.no-illegal-tobacco.co.uk.

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