ACTION in the North-East to tackle the illegal tobacco trade will come under the spotlight at a Parliamentary inquiry this week.

Fresh, the North-East tobacco control office, has been called to give evidence as part of a three day investigation by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health into the illegal tobacco trade, starting tomorrow (Friday, Dec 6).

Although illegal tobacco is still a problem in some areas, the North of England Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Programme - set up to bring together the work of the NHS, HMRC, councils and police - has helped reduce the amount of illegal tobacco consumed since its launch in 2009.

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Between 2009-2011 the volume of illegal tobacco bought by North-East smokers fell by 39 per cent, while the number of smokers actually buying illegal tobacco fell by ten per cent. This is estimated to have saved about £36m in duty and tax.

The APPG inquiry follows the adoption of the Illicit Trade Protocol, a new international treaty setting rules for combating the illegal trade. Tighter controls of the supply chain, including a global tracking and tracing system are part of the new Protocol.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, which ran the 'Keep It Out' campaign on illegal tobacco earlier this year, said: "All tobacco is harmful, but illegal tobacco is a problem that helps children get hooked on smoking.

"There are many lessons to learn on tackling the problem and in the North-East ongoing work by the NHS, HMRC and trading standards has resulted in greater awareness of the problems, more people reporting it and fewer people buying illegal tobacco."

Richard Ferry, of the North East Trading Standards Association, said: "We have seen fewer counterfeit cigarettes and more mass produced brands made in factories in places like Kaliningrad."