ILLICIT tobacco sales have become an ‘acute problem’ in East Lancashire, according to consumer watchdogs.

Seventeen traders have been prosecuted so far this year and there have been 12 court cases since April.

Julie Waddington, of Lancashire County Council’s trading standards department, said: “Prosecutions are more numerous in the east than elsewhere in the county.

“We continually receive intelligence regarding the trade of illicit tobacco products, the majority of which relates to East Lancashire, suggesting an acute problem in the area.”

She said the counterfeit, duty-free and ‘black market’ brands like Jin Lings were often sold at half the price of legitimate cigarettes, providing unfair competition to other traders and cheating the taxman.

Each pack sold cheated customs out of around £5.83 for a packet of cigarettes and £10.81 for a 50g pouch of tobacco, she said.

Irfan Ali, 43, who runs Walter News, in Walter Street, Brierfield, was fined £200 with £430 costs after admitting to supplying nearly 650 packets of cigarettes or hand-rolling tobacco without the proper health warnings.

He was also caught with ‘black market’ Jin Ling cigarettes and bogus packs of Amber Leaf and Golden Virginia tobacco.

Zia Aslam, 38, of Roundwood Avenue, Burnley, was fined £400 with £659 costs for similar offences, also involving Jin Ling cigarettes, but also fake packs of Regal and Superkings cigarettes at premises in Thurston Street.

Zishan Mahmood, 20, of Reedley Drive, Burnley, was fined £110 with £90 costs for selling cigarettes and tobacco without health warnings from Ruskin Stores in Colne.

An arrest warrant was issued by magistrates for a fourth shopkeeper who was accused of similar offences.

Mrs Waddington added: “Some illicit products, including counterfeits and ‘black market’ brands, have absolutely no control over what goes into making them or on the levels of harmful substances they might contain.

“All types of illicit tobacco usually fall foul of labelling requirements designed to remind smokers about the dangers of smoking.

“This can lead to imprisonment of up to six months for anybody who gets involved in selling them. ”