Human excrement, asbestos and dead flies: What you might be smoking if you buy black market cigarettes

Fake cigarettes made from human excrement,  asbestos, mould and dead flies are being smoked regularly in Britain, undercover  detectives have found.

Investigators working for the tobacco  industry have spent weeks rummaging through litter bins for fag packets to  assess the scale of the black market.

They were astonished by the sheer volume of  the illicit trade, with about one third of packets found to have contained fakes  or cigarettes brought in by smugglers.

The survey in Birmingham by MS  Intelligence,  a Swiss-based brand protection company, found that 30.9  per cent of packets  were either bogus or purchased abroad.

A similar study conducted last year found the  proportion was only 14.1  per cent – indicating that the number of illicit  cigarettes smoked in  Britain’s second-largest city has more than doubled in 12  months.

Customers who smoke counterfeit cigarettes  have been warned they are taking huge  health risks. The UK Border Agency has  intercepted items containing  asbestos, mould and human excrement.

A haul in Derbyshire found cigarettes made  from the remains of crushed flies.

Experts believe that MS Intelligence’s  findings may be merely the tip of the iceberg.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) estimates that  non UK duty-paid cigarettes  cost the taxpayer up to £3.6billion in revenue  during the 2009-10  financial year.

A  spokesman for the International Tax and  Investment Centre, a lobby  group, said: ‘Duty goes unpaid on almost one in  three cigarettes smoked  in Birmingham.

‘But that does not include hand-rolled  tobacco, of which HMRC estimates as much as half is sourced on the black  market.’

MS Intelligence carried out the research on  behalf of a number of  cigarette companies who are concerned that plans to  introduce plain  packaging will help black market tobacco barons flood the  market with  fakes.

Analysts collected 13,000 packets in  Birmingham between April 3 and May 11.

Most of the bogus brands uncovered originated  from the Far East,  predominantly from China, and some packets were so  sophisticated that  they were almost identical to the real thing.

An MS Intelligence report on the  investigation – codenamed Operation EDPC – concludes that criminals have changed  tactics.

It warns of a rise in the number of ‘illicit  whites’, which are cigarettes manufactured for the sole purpose of being  smuggled into and sold  illegally in another market, avoiding tax.

The report states: ‘Historically, it (the  illicit market) was made up of  genuine brands of tobacco smuggled from  lower-priced EU countries.

‘Currently, there are much more counterfeits  and, increasingly, illicit “whites”.’

Costly and dangerous: Analysts spent weeks rummaging through litter bins and scouring pavements in Birmingham, looking for evidence of fake cigarettes

Costly and dangerous: Analysts spent weeks rummaging  through litter bins and scouring pavements in Birmingham, looking for evidence  of fake cigarettes

The report continues: ‘Along with  counterfeits, illicit whites represent the most significant threat to legitimate  trade and tobacco revenues in the UK from large-scale organised  criminality.’

One of the most popular ‘whites’ found in the  Birmingham sweep is Jin Ling – a cigarette which has enjoyed staggering  under-the-counter success.

In 2006, they were only found in Poland and  neighbouring nations, but now they are changing hands in at least 16 EU  countries.

Former Scotland Yard detective Will O’Reilly,  currently carrying out research for tobacco giant Philip Morris International,  said organised criminals were increasingly turning from peddling hard drugs to  tobacco.

Profit margins are said to be just as high  because of the scale of the operation, but detection rates are lower and  punishment less severe. Recently,  heroin and cigarettes have been smuggled together.

‘Bring a container of cigarettes into this  country and you’re talking a £1.5 million profit,’ said Mr O’Reilly. ‘Organised  crime is all over it.

‘After a number of years in decline, there  has been a sharp rise in illicit cigarettes.

‘That’s partly down to the economy – people  can’t afford the real product – and it is easier for counterfeiters to copy the  packets.

‘Plans for plain packaging are simply playing  into the hands of organised criminals and counterfeiters because it will be so  much easier to make copies.’

Almost identical to the real thing: A pile of counterfeit cigarettes confiscated by French officials in 2010. Organised smuggling gangs operate in many countries

Almost identical to the real thing: A pile of  counterfeit cigarettes confiscated by French officials in 2010. Organised  smuggling gangs operate in many countries

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