A store owner has called for more action to crack down on the illegal tobacco trade.
Kuldeep Singh Jagpal says business at his shop in South Shields is falling because of smuggled cigarettes and he feels more needs to be done to combat sales of counterfeit tobacco.
He says he has noticed a rise in customers coming into the store, in Sunderland Road, Harton, only to purchase rolling papers and a fall in the sales of general goods normally generated by those coming in to buy cigarettes.
He says it could get worse if tobacco companies are forced to put tobacco products into plain packaging.
Mr Jagpal, who has been in the shop trade for 30 years, said: “When people buy cigarettes illegally it’s not just the sale of those cigarettes we are losing but also the goods people pick up whilst they are in the shop.
“It is having an impact on businesses everywhere. There is also no control over who these people are selling tobacco products to.
“The age challenges that were brought in prevent youngsters from being sold cigarettes. I have got three children and I wouldn’t want anyone to be selling cigarettes to them.
“If people keep putting money into the hands of people who sell illegal cigarettes, they are going to keep doing it and there is no control over that.
“If the Government introduces plain packaging, it is going to make it easier for counterfeiters.”
Mr Jagpal says he has worked with South Tyneside Council in the past to combat counterfeit cigarette and tobacco sales and to promote the importance of retailers asking for identification when selling age-restricted products.
Recent research revealed there had been an increase in the sale of illegal cigarettes.
In the North East. the number of illicit cigarettes on the streets had risen to 16.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2012 – up from 11.2 per cent the previous year.
Counterfeit cigarettes recently intercepted by the UK Border Agency were found to contain asbestos, rat droppings, human faeces, dead flies and mould.
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “The council has delivered a great deal of work in the local community with residents and partners to help eradicate the sale and supply of illegal tobacco.
“The sale of illegal tobacco is usually linked to other organised criminal activity and can often be a source for young people making it easier for them to get hooked on smoking.”
If anyone has information about the sale and supply of illicit tobacco in South Tyneside please call Crimestoppers on 0800 55 111 or for more information on illegal tobacco visit www.keep-it-out.co.uk