An investigative team who visited Derry last week to assess the scale of the trade in fake and contraband cigarettes, said that the trade in the city is the worst and most brazen that they have seen “in the whole of the UK”.
They also issued a warning over the particular dangers of smoking fake or “illicit white” cigarettes, some of which have even been found to contain human faeces.
The illegally manufactured smokes have even been linked to house fires as they lack industry standard flame retardant ingredients.
The team of five, headed up by former Scotland Yard Dectective chief inspector Will O’Reilly, are employed by cigarette giant Philip Morris which is attempting to stop the government changing to plain cigarette packaging which it says will cause an increase in the illegal trade.
The former under-cover police officers randomly visited shops throughout the city over two days. During a four hour period on the first day they found that no fewer than 23 shops throughout the city and Waterside areas supplied a vast array of illegal cigarettes.
But by the second day word had spread throughout some stores and they refused to sell at all. Others told them to call back later as the cigarettes were kept elsewhere. The team were shocked that the cigarettes were so widely available despite a police crackdown the previous week.
Will O’Reilly told the ‘Journal’ that new brand names of so called illicit whites are being manufactured every week, with factories in Poland, Russia and the Ukraine producing vast quantities and flooding the market.
“Since his last visit to the city just a few weeks before, he found three new brand names on the market.
“We do find that Derry has the biggest trade in illict white cigarettes that we have seen anywhere,” he said.
“These are distinct from contraband which are genuine but have been smuggled perhaps a few hundred at a time and no duty has been paid on them.
“The illicit whites are strongly linked to organised crime gangs and in Northern Ireland are linked to dissident republican activities. From what we have been told though, republicans and loyalists work together to get them into the country because there are vast profits to be made from the trade.
“We all know that smoking isn’t good for you but these fake cigarettes contain stuff that you wouldn’t believe.
“Rat droppings, 30 times the amount of lead, arsenic, floor sweepings with grass and bark, as well as animal and even human faeces have all been found.
“Pop up factories are cheap to assemble and easy to move from one place to another and so are extremely hard to shut down.
“These cigarettes can do serious damage and have even been linked to house fires as they don’t have the flame retardant chemicals which are now standard in our brands.
“The availability of these cigarettes in the city has shocked us and we have travelled the length and breadth of the UK during our investigations.”