Poison cigarettes being sold to children in Lincolnshire
Counterfeit cigarettes containing arsenic, rat droppings, mould and lead are being sold to growing numbers of children at illegal "fag houses" across the county.
The poisons have been found in cigarettes seized in raids. Police, customs and Trading Standards are now cracking down on the smugglers behind the operation.
They say "fag houses" are homes on normal estates where criminals sell cheap cigarettes and tobacco to locals.
Many customers are children who are too young to be served elsewhere.
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Smokefree Lincs Alliance – the body set up to reduce smoking in the county – believes there are "fag houses" operating in Lincoln, Sleaford, Boston and Mablethorpe.
Many of their cigarettes are smuggled or counterfeit.
Alliance spokesman Ros Watson said if action is not taken now, there will be grave consequences.
"People go to fag houses under the misconception that the dealer has been abroad and brought back a load of cigarettes and tobacco to help the community and avoid the nasty taxman – it's almost seen as a Robin Hood crime," she said.
"But what we want to get across is that this isn't a Robin Hood crime any more.
"If we don't tackle young people smoking, we're going to have an epidemic in ten, 15 or 20 years' time.
"There's also evidence nationally to suggest that cigarettes are being sold to young people through ice cream vans and they can get them in 'ones' with a match for about 50p. We do know it does happen, but what we don't know is where."
Cigarettes at "fag houses" tend to originate from China and eastern Europe. The criminals running them are often linked to wider networks.
Lincolnshire Trading Standards, Lincolnshire Police and HMRC are cracking down on the problem at its source.
It has resulted in arrests following the seizure of almost seven tonnes of smuggled tobacco, near Louth.
And earlier this year, two men from Lincolnshire were charged with offences relating to 12 million smuggled cigarettes and 645 kilos of tobacco.
HMRC spokesman Maddy Ratnett said: “Those involved are not concerned if they are selling to children and underage young people and the illicit trade is having a devastating impact on the local communities.
“Low cost tobacco can often seem very attractive to local people, lured into purchasing them at what seems like bargain prices.
“However, the truth is these goods have been smuggled and these sales are unlicensed and unregulated.”
Many of the cigarette brands seized in Lincolnshire are what are known as “illegal whites”, including Jin Lin and L&M’s.
They are effectively made purely for smuggling and often obtained in large quantities by organised crime gangs who smuggle them into the UK.
Lincolnshire Police spokesman James Newall said: “In most communities, it’s known that there are these properties where cheap cigarettes are for sale.
“Regardless of the fact people under the age of 18 shouldn’t be purchasing cigarettes, if they are counterfeit they could contain extremely harmful substances which would make people who smoke them seriously ill.
“Parents need to be aware of this and make sure their children are properly educated on the dangers.
“We carry out a number of successful operations every year, but we do rely heavily on community information, so if anyone knows about anywhere in the area where these cigarettes can be bought, please call us as soon as possible.”
Contact Lincolnshire Police on 101. Alternatively, anyone with any information on illicit cigarettes and tobacco can also call Lincolnshire Trading Standards on 01522 782341.