Fake cigarettes containing potentially lethal ingredients including absestos, arsenic and mouse droppings are being sold in dozens of Doncaster bars, pubs and shops.
An undercover operation over two days has revealed the town is one of the easiest in the country for unscrupulous retailers to peddle their illicit goods.
The investigation was led by former Scotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector Will O’Reilly, and found 32 Doncaster premises selling dodgy fags and roll-your-own tobacco, with 40 separate purchases of 80 products being obtained in 48 hours.
Russian and Polish branded tobacco was revealed as the most prevalent, with packs of 20 cigarettes selling for as little as £3, less than half the recommended retail price of legal cigarettes. Rolling tobacco was available for £8 per 50g pouch.
DCI O’Reilly said: “The investigation is intelligence-led, we go to a place over a couple of days and use law enforcement information or just speak to smokers outside pubs.
“Doncaster is pretty high, towards the top end of the test purchase quota. Forty purchases is pretty high and it would be a lie if I said it wasn’t easy.”
He added: “There are a number of reasons why we do this - firstly to raise the public’s awareness of the consequences.
“The loss to the treasury is about £3 billion a year, and that shortfall has to be found somewhere, costing every family between £300 and £400 a year.
“More importantly, the organised criminal gangs are moving away from the more dangerous activities like drug smuggling because there’s more profit to be made in tobacco - they receive £1m for every container they bring in.
“Unscrupulous retailers who don’t care will sell this to anyone, even children. Some cigarettes we have found have contained mouse droppings, asbestos, and 30 times the amount of lead of a normal cigarette and arsenic.”
Doncaster Councillor Joe Blackham, cabinet member for community safety, said: “We are committed to tackling illicit tobacco. We are aware of the availability of cheap cigarettes and investigations are ongoing.
“This is not just a Doncaster problem, but we continue to work on addressing the issue locally and encourage anyone who has suspicions about the sale of fake cigarettes and tobacco to report it through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
Across Britain the illicit trade in tobacco is on the increase. Statistics from HM Revenue and Customs estimate 500 million more cigarettes were smuggled into the UK in 2012/13 than in 2011/12, and 300 more tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco.
The £3bn potential cost to the Government is £500m more than last year.
In Doncaster the test purchasers reported finding it very easy to find and purchase illicit tobacco products. The cheapest found were Russian variant Fest being sold for £3 per pack, and Jin Ling and Minsk for the same price.
Others included Gold Mount, Palace and Business Royals, all at £4 per pack.