ILLEGAL tobacco sellers are being targeted by health officials - after a crackdown on rogue stores earlier this year.

An enforcement campaign backed by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care is warning illegal sellers they are being watched.

Thanks to residents in Bolton, officials have been able to crack down on retailers who sell illegal tobacco to underage youths and adults who would otherwise quit an expensive habit.

This enforcement campaign comes after figures from a survey by the health trust revealed nearly half of people who buy illicit tobacco purchase it from shops.

An increase of more than 10 percent has been recorded since 2018.

Between April and September 2021, the Keep It Out campaign, run across Bolton, generated 16 reports of illegal tobacco being sold and raids saw nearly 15,000 illegal cigarettes and more than six kilos of illegal hand rolling tobacco seized.

Cllr Susan Baines, the borough's health and wellbeing cabinet member, said: “We need the public to anonymously report where illegal tobacco is being sold, so we can identify the criminals who are putting the health of our communities at risk.

“People might think illegal tobacco is not a big deal but it is smuggled and dealt by organised crime groups who are linked to drugs and people trafficking.

“These people profit from keeping smokers addicted and selling to underage children.”

Keep It Out is part of a regional multi-agency programme to reduce the supply of and demand for illegal tobacco, highlighting the true cost of these ‘cheap’ products and encouraging people to report sales.

A number of corner shops last year had their operating licences either revoked or suspended after an operation to crack down on the sale of illegal tobacco took place by Gallagher Ltd, which producesseveral leading UK brands.

They sent officers wearing covert cameras into dozens of corner shops, off licences and convenience stores and found 19 out of 31 outlets sold illegal cigarettes.