PRIVATE investigators have uncovered yet more illicit tobacco being sold under the counter in local shops.

We told last week how joint operations from Police Scotland, Glasgow City Council, HMRC and Trading Standards uncovered 200,000 illegal fags in three areas of the city.

Now a retired Scotland Yard detective has revealed how his undercover work found illicit tobacco in other venues across Glasgow.

Former Detective Chief Inspector Will O'Reilly and his team found contraband in Govan, Govanhill and at the Gallowgate.

He has now passed on that information to the city's Trading Standards bosses to be further investigated.

Will said: "One of the main parts of my role is to organise test purchase activity in the UK and Ireland but we also work around the globe.

"We use a small team of two or three people all of whom have training in undercover work.

"And we go out and speak to smokers on the street and look at a shops such as betting shops or corner shops, or pubs, that may be selling illicit tobacco."

In Glasgow Will and his team visited Allison Street and Victoria Road in Govanhill, Duke Street, the Gallowgate, Govan Road, Paisley Road and Shaw Street where they made 33 purchases of illicit tobacco on offer in shops and pubs.

Glasgow Times: Illicit tobacco uncovered by the team

One shop had a false panel behind the counter for hiding the contraband and in some place up to 20 different brands.

Will's work is paid for by tobacco giant Philip Morris, which has caused some controversy in recent years by rebranding as a health and wellbeing company.

It funds undercover illicit tobacco operations around the UK and Ireland.

A new report from KPMG, funded by Philip Morris, shows show counterfeit and contraband tobacco use went up 66% in Scotland during lockdown in 2020.

And illegal cigarettes now account for 15% of all cigarettes smoked in Scotland.

But this figure is the lowest in the UK with the highest being 34% in North East England.

Will says there are multiple dangers caused by illicit tobacco, from it being a gateway to smoking for children to the increased dangers to health and the fact it generates cash for organised crime.

He said: "Every pack of illicit cigarettes someone buys from someone down the pub or an irresponsible retailer, that money will end up in the hands of organised crime groups.

"They may be selling cigarettes one day, drugs the next day and people smuggling another day.

"It is a loss to the tax payer of £2 billion every year.

"Children and young people are most likely to get into smoking by smoking illicit cigarettes and these cigarettes are far more dangerous and unregulated.

"They have been found to contain rat droppings, human faeces.

"There is no fire retardant bands on them so they are far more dangerous - they go down to the filter, there's a flame and the next thing the sofa is on fire."

Brexit and lockdown has also "changed the parameters" of the trade in illicit tobacco with a drop in the number of people bringing back cigarettes from overseas to sell.

Will said: "You used to see a proportion of regular smugglers or people bringing it back from holiday but now organised crime gangs are stepping in to that void and producing illicit cigarettes.

"We have seen a lot of illicit cigarettes coming from Ireland to Scotland.

"You can make a packet of cigarettes for less 20p but sell them on for £5 or £6. You can make millions of cigarettes in a very short space of time once you are up and running you can make a lot of money in a short space of time.

Glasgow Times: Boo, a tobacco detection dog pictured with illicit tobacco products at a secure location in Glasgow. The items that Boo helped to find were seized by trading standard officers from premises in Glasgow over the past two months...Photograph by Colin

"The risk against reward is quite low. If you are caught with a kilo of coke then you could be looking at 20 years in prison but if you are caught with illicit cigarettes then you might get off with a fine."

And social media has created a new forum for people selling illegal cigarettes - a platform it is much more difficult for cops to tackle.

Often social media groups are private and need an introduction, making them hard for police to infiltrate.

Will said: "It's a moveable feast because people can change tags and the names of groups but often selling it on the internet is the easiest way to do it."

The new annual KPMG report showed counterfeit cigarettes are at a five-year high in the UK, up 9% on 2019.

A Glasgow City Council spokesperson said: “Our Trading Standards officers are working hard to disrupt and stop the selling and distribution of illicit tobacco and potentially harmful counterfeit cigarettes to the public.

"It’s a trade that harms communities and puts the health and well-being of unsuspecting consumers at risk.

"Any work which disrupts the illegal sale of dangerous tobacco products is welcome."

How to spot illegal cigarettes:

• packets with no picture health warnings

• fully branded packs not in standardised plain packaging

• packets with foreign language health warnings

• packs displaying the same code on the base each pack which is supposed to be unique.

• stock kept out of sight in shops and away from the regular tobacco display cabinet

• low cost compared to normal cigarettes – for example, a pack of 20 illegal cigarettes can cost as little as £4 – £5

• unusual or foreign brand names

• availability in unusual locations, such as pubs, market stalls, private homes and internet sellers.

There are three main types of illegal cigarettes.

COUNTERFEIT CIGARETTES: These are produced in illegal factories, increasingly here in the UK. These are the most likely to contain harmful contaminants and lack safety features.

CONTRABAND: These are genuine products which have been smuggled into the UK from another country with lower taxes.

ILLICT WHITES: These are cigarettes which have been legally manufactured in another country (Belarus is a major exporter) but smuggled across borders without any tax being paid.