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Councils urged to reject tobacco industry money

Corin Williams03/09/2014 - 14:00

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Imperial Tobacco has funded council sniffer dogs
Imperial Tobacco has funded council sniffer dogs

Anti-smoking campaigners have called on councils to rebuff industry influence after Hull City Council turned down an offer from Imperial Tobacco to fund sniffer dogs to track down counterfeit cigarettes.

Hull City Council’s assistant head of public protection Trevor Todd said the approach from Imperial Tobacco was ‘informal’ and that the council only liaises with the company to identify which products are fake.

He told EHN that detecting illegal cigarettes was a priority. ‘We have been able to fund a tobacco control officer to work full-time.

‘The reason for that is that we have the support of our colleagues in public health. They view tobacco control as a really serious issue and something they want to deal with by frustrating the supply of counterfeit and illicit tobacco.’

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH, said: ‘It’s crucial that when local authorities take steps to tackle tobacco smuggling they don’t let the tobacco industry set their priorities.

‘The tobacco industry is obsessed about counterfeit product, not smuggling of their own brands as they still make a profit when people are buying genuine cigarettes and it’s only the government which loses out as the tax isn’t paid.

‘Now that local authorities have responsibility for public health it’s important that they take steps to ensure their policies are protected from the vested interests of the tobacco industry and that there are no conflicts of interest across the council’s policies.’

A spokesperson for Imperial Tobacco told EHN: ‘We have paid for sniffer dogs in some areas of the UK to help local trading standards authorities to fight the illicit tobacco trade. Some authorities accept this form of support and some do not.’

The company declined to say which councils had taken up the offer and how much money was involved as the information was considered to be ‘commercially sensitive and confidential’.

A number of local authorities have used dogs without receiving money from the tobacco industry.

Birmingham City Council used two sniffer dogs in a crackdown on illicit tobacco in June.

The animals were funded by the Department of Health and provided by detection dog company Wagtail UK. The raids uncovered around £7,000 worth of illegal cigarettes.

Barbara Dring, chair of Birmingham’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: ‘The detection dogs can find tobacco and cigarettes even if hidden in the most unlikely places.’

An increasing number of councils, including Birmingham, have explicitly rejected any funding or influence from tobacco companies via the Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control, an initiative spearheaded by Newcastle City Council and administered by ASH.

Fifty-four upper-tier councils have now joined, along with 17 district councils.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said a number of councils had taken steps to tackle fake cigarettes in recent months.

Joanna Spicer, vice chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: ‘Counterfeit tobacco being sold cheaply through the black market by rogue traders is hampering council efforts to reduce smoking. This illicit trade is also funding organised criminal gangs, damaging the livelihoods of honest businesses and costing taxpayers billions of pounds a year.’

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