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Bootleg cigarettes containing asbestos on sale in Belfast


Illegal cigarette sales are cash cow for criminal gangs

Illegal cigarette sales are cash cow for criminal gangs

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Illegal cigarette sales are cash cow for criminal gangs

A notorious black market cigarette brand known to contain asbestos is on sale in Belfast.

The highly dangerous Jin Ling brand is one of a host of illegal tobacco products increasingly available in the city.

Smuggling them here is said to have become the "crime of choice" for organised gangs, who can make huge profits from their sale.

That's the warning from tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris Ltd after it commissioned former Scotland Yard detective chief inspector Will O'Reilly to carry out a survey of illicit tobacco in Belfast.

Over three days in August this year, illegal tobacco products were bought from 49 shops, pubs and minicab offices across the city. They included fake versions of well-known brands of cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco and illegal black market brands - including the notorious Russian-made Jin Ling, which is banned in the UK.

Earlier this year Trading Standards chiefs warned people to avoid buying Jin Ling after the cigarettes were found to contain deadly asbestos.

Packs of Jin Ling were found on sale at a Belfast car wash, while the survey also found the illegal brands Gold Mount, Golden SeagiieS, Kingdom, MGs, Palace, Don, VB and Airlife could all be bought in Belfast for between £3.50 and £4 a packet.

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During the survey, 95 products were bought across Belfast, including 90 packs of illicit cigarettes and five 50g pouches of roll-your-own tobacco.

They were bought from 41 shops, including four that had been caught selling the illicit products before. Twice they were purchased from men in pubs, five times from controllers in minicab companies and once from staff at a car wash.

Mr O'Reilly said: "The test purchases of tobacco products are conducted in order to gain an understanding of the level of the problem of the illegal tobacco trade in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland.

"Overall our test purchasers found that illicit tobacco products can be easily purchased in all areas of the city that they visited. Most of the retailers selling illicit tobacco products were white indigenous Irish.

"Another survey conducted by the tobacco industry in 2014 examined discarded cigarette packs. This revealed 26.4% of non-UK duty paid cigarettes in Belfast. This compares to a UK average of 24.4%. These surveys confirm our concerns that the incidence of illegal tobacco products is increasing in Northern Ireland and it has become the 'crime of choice' for organised gangs, with its potential for huge profits."

Case studies

In a shop in north Belfast the male shopkeeper sold two packs of Kingdom for £3.50 per pack. This shop was surrounded by youths, many in their early teens, all smoking. Some were seen buying cigarettes, including illegal brand Kingdom.

In a shop in east Belfast the female assistant fetched two packs of a well-known brand from a secret compartment in a specially built hiding place under shelving behind the counter. She sold the cigarettes for £3.50 per pack, and also had two brands of rolling tobacco hidden.

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