HEALTH campaigners have called for a pioneering approach launched in the North-East in 2009 to tackle illegal tobacco to be rolled out nationally following the publication of a report by MPs.

The Home Affairs Committee report calls for better co-operation between enforcement teams fighting the illicit trade such as HMRC, trading standards and police - work which has been happening in the North-East and North-West since 2009 as part of the "North of England Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Partnership".

The report also states that any opportunities for criminals after the introduction of plain packaging of cigarettes could be curbed by better tracking and tracing of illegal tobacco in the revised EU Tobacco Products Directive, due to be implemented by 2016.

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Since 2009, work in the North-East to tackle illegal tobacco has seen the market decline from around 15 per cent of the market in 2009 down to 9 per cent in 2013,

This has resulted in 52,000 fewer illegal tobacco smokers and 242 million fewer illegal cigarettes smoked, worth about £67 million in duty.

Despite the success in the North-East the overall number of arrests, prosecutions and convictions for organised tobacco smuggling have fallen nationally in the last three years.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: "It is a matter of grave concern that, despite an increase in the resources over the last three years the numbers of arrests, prosecutions and convictions for organised crime cases involving tobacco have all fallen.

"It is vital that there is no reduction in enforcement action."

Earlier this year Fresh, with Tobacco Free Futures and Smoke Free South West launched the national Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Partnership which brings together experts from HMRC, health and trading standards from the North-East and North-West, Yorkshire and the South-West to tackle supply and demand.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: "This report makes it pretty clear that effective joined-up work across organisations like trading standard and HMRC can help drive further reductions in the illegal tobacco market and remove opportunities for criminals to profit from ill health.

"The report also pours water on the tobacco industry’s claims that that removing glossy brands from tobacco will lead to an increase in illicit trade.

"We firmly believe the committee chairman Keith Vaz should now look at how this approach can be rolled out nationally to compliment the excellent work nationally and internationally to fight this trade.

“Credit goes to our local authorities who with HMRC have played a vital role in tackling local supply in areas where illicit sales have been identified as a problem – closing down the local illegal supply chain, warning dealers that sales will not be tolerated.”