ILLEGAL tobacco is being bought by more than half of teenage smokers in the region, a study has revealed.

Around 55 per cent of underage smokers, aged 14 and 15, become addicted to cigarettes through illegal tobacco bought from shops or "tab houses", with 73 per cent being offered the illicit product.

Campaign group Fresh have released the findings of the 2017 North East Illegal Tobacco Survey alongside the launch of its Keep It Out movement to help the public spot illegal tobacco, report it and to encourage smokers not to buy it.

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Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: "One in two smokers will die from their addiction, and no-one wants their child to start.

"While fewer people than ever are now smoking, illegal cigarettes are often responsible for getting children initiated on smoking as they can buy it at pocket money prices from people who don't care who they sell to."

Shopkeeper John McClurey, a former North of England President of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, said: "Most retailers would not dream of stocking illegal tobacco or selling to children, and are very angry about the illegal tobacco trade. The figures are concerning.

"There is a strong case for tougher penalties against those who sell it as a deterrent and to weed out the few bad apples in the retail trade without conscience."