A CAMPAIGN to crackdown on illegal 'under the counter' tobacco will return after the quantity of cigarettes and tobacco seized increased by eight times in just five weeks.

Almost 640,000 cigarettes and 153kg of rolling tobacco were seized by Greater Manchester Trading Standards during the Keep It Out campaign, when communities were encouraged to report illegal tobacco in April and May this year.

This is nearly as much as all the illegal tobacco seized last year across all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester, which totalled 804,000 cigarettes and 145kg of rolling tobacco.

Reporting of illegal tobacco by the public saw a similar rise, with 10 times as many reports being made than normal. Trading Standards received an average of 30 reports a week across Greater Manchester during the campaign.

The next stage of Keep It Out will focus specifically on neighbourhoods where Trading Standards suspect that illegal tobacco is being sold.

Over four weeks, there will be targeted leaflet drops in addition to online, social media and radio plugs, as well as advertising inside buses and on phone kiosks.

Illegal tobacco is known to be a major cause of young people starting smoking and undermines adults’ attempts to quit, as it is often sold at very low prices. Trading Standards North West's research found that nearly a quarter of young smokers across Greater Manchester bought cigarettes they knew were illegal. Six out of every 10 purchases made by under 18s of illegal tobacco were made at local shops.

Illegal tobacco is smuggled and distributed by organised criminals, which means buying it also funds crime.

Andrea Crossfield, population health policy and strategy specialist Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “The Keep It Out campaign has shown us that local people care about their communities and the health of their friends and neighbours.

“By providing information to Trading Standards they have helped us increase the amount of illegal tobacco seized and helped protect people, especially younger residents, from the dangers it poses.”

A crackdown on illegal tobacco is one part of Greater Manchester’s wider strategy to cut smoking rates by a third by the end of 2021. This is faster than any other major global city and would mean 115,000 fewer smokers.

Kate Pike, Trading Standards North West lead on tobacco, said: “The availability of illegal tobacco not only harms health but brings crime into our communities. People may think they are just getting a bargain – what they don’t see is the complex network of organised criminals which are involved in the trafficking and sale of tobacco. We will take action wherever and whenever we find illegal tobacco being sold.”

Dr Louise Brown, a respiratory medicine consultant from North Manchester General Hospital, said: “Unfortunately I am all too aware of the harms caused by tobacco. Most of the patients who I see with smoking-related illness got addicted to tobacco while they were under the age of 18.

“Once young people start smoking it’s really hard for them to stop – as many as two in three teenagers who try cigarettes will go on to become regular smokers. I really want to reduce the number of patients I see having their lives shortened by smoking. Tackling illegal tobacco prevents children from getting hold of cigarettes and reduces the access to cheap tobacco that can undermines adults’ quit attempts.”

Report the sale of illegal tobacco anonymously to Crimestoppers 0800 555 111 or at keep-it-out.co.uk.