A CAMPAIGN on illegal tobacco has led to a large increase in the reports of sales in Bolton.

The Keep it Out campaign, which reveals the true cost of "cheap" illegal tobacco and the links to organised crime saw 42 reports of sales in the town between March and October.

And it has also led to more than 1.7m illegal cigarettes and over 100kg of illegal hand rolling tobacco being seized across Greater Manchester in that time.

This included the largest ever single seizure by Trading Standards in the region

Bolton Council’s executive cabinet member for regulatory services, Cllr Hilary Fairclough, said: “Recent reports of illegal tobacco in Bolton show that smuggled and often fake products continued to be sold during lockdown when overseas travel was restricted.

"This shows that, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just duty free being sold on the illegal tobacco market.

"These highly addictive tobacco products are being sold by organised crime gangs with links to human trafficking, loan sharking and the drugs trade.

“This council has a zero-tolerance approach to illegal tobacco and we always seek to prosecute those responsible for selling these dangerous products.

"Any business found to be involved in the sale of illicit tobacco also faces the prospect of having its premises or alcohol licence revoked."

The campaign is run by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, in collaboration with local authority Trading Standards and enforcement partners from across the region.

Andrea Crossfield, Making Smoking History lead at the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said: “The crackdown on illegal tobacco is part of Greater Manchester’s wider efforts to cut smoking rates and make smoking history for future generations.

"All tobacco kills, but illegal tobacco is getting kids hooked on a lethal addiction and cheaper prices undermine smokers’ quit attempts. Whether legal or illegal, all tobacco contains a toxic cocktail of chemicals which will kill one in two long term smokers.

"It’s not just about the impact on our health though, the illegal tobacco market is fuelled by organised crime and that’s why we’re raising awareness of the harm it brings to our neighbourhoods too, and encouraging people to report illegal sales.”

Enforcement officers also issued a dramatic new video showing a raid of a shop on May 12 where illegal tobacco was being sold "under the counter".

The footage shows enforcement officers gaining entry and discovering a large volume of illegal cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco hidden in a locked room that was connected to the counter via an adjacent secret hatch.

Trading Standards north west lead on tobacco, Kate Pike, said: “We visited this shop after receiving intelligence that illegal tobacco was being sold.

"We found illegal tobacco behind a locked door in a grubby stairwell.

"A sliding hatch went through to the shop, so illegal tobacco could be passed through to whoever was behind the counter.

"We found a staff house where lots of people were sleeping on the floor – this is the real human cost of ‘cheap’ cigarettes or tobacco.

"We are working with partners across Greater Manchester to drive down the illicit trade. If you know where illegal tobacco is for sale, please get in touch.

"We will take action wherever and whenever we find illegal tobacco being sold.”

The sale of illegal tobacco can be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or at keep-it-out.co.uk.