Published: 08:38, 05 March 2013
More than half of cigarettes smoked in Gillingham are illegal, a survey has shown.
Research by MSIntelligence revealed the town topped the table for having the worst habit when it comes to smoking counterfeit cigarettes.
Its Empty Discarded Pack Collection Survey analysed almost 13,000 empty cigarette packs discarded in bins and on the streets across 105 cities and towns in the UK.
It found 54.5% of packets thrown away in Gillingham had avoided tax, while Poole came second (50.83%), and Worthing third (49.24%).
Nationally one in four packs (26%) were said to be from the black market, up from one in five a year ago.
Former Detective Chief Inspector Will O’Reilly, of Scotland Yard, said: “Interestingly, Gillingham was also highest 18 months ago.
“The reason may be the proximity to the Channel ports, it may be a recent downturn in the local economy and it may be the fact that there’s a lot of organised crime happening there.
“What we are seeing is organised criminal groups who are historically linked to drugs, firearms, people smuggling, are turning away from those perhaps more riskier enterprises to smuggling cigarettes because the profit margins are great.”
It is estimated that smuggled cigarettes cost the taxpayer up to £3.6billion in revenue a year, which equates to an extra £200 in tax for every family.
Mr O’Reilly also warned those smoking illegal cigarettes to be aware of the health issues.
He said: “People are putting themselves at risk - one survey found smoking one of these was the equivalent of smoking 30 legal cigarettes.
“All sorts of things have been found in them, including human faeces, rat dropping, sawdust, grass and some of these with very high levels of toxin.
“Children are also being put in danger as some of these retailers and unscrupulous sellers are targeting children.”
Cllr Tristan Osborne (Lab) called for “immediate” action to be taken.
He said: "It is clear that sales of illicit tobacco have now reached endemic levels in the Medway Towns.
"The Council Portfolio holder and our MPs need to say immediately what they will do to highlight this problem at a national level and what measures they will introduce to see this figure reduce.”
Rehman Chishti MP said he would now be seeking assurances from the council that all action was being taken to address the issue.