MORE than 350 anonymous tip offs from the public have been received by trading standards teams since the launch of a campaign tackling the sale of illegal tobacco.

The ‘Keep it Out’ campaign went live in the North-East in November and highlights how children can easily get hooked on illicit cigarettes and how such trade can benefit criminals.

It was launched by the tobacco control group Fresh, which receives funding from 11 of the region’s 12 local councils.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “We are delighted to see this campaign making people think twice about buying and selling illegal tobacco, and also to see hundreds of pieces of information coming through.

“All tobacco – legal and illegal – kills one in two smokers and nobody wants their child to start smoking.

“The best way to reduce illegal tobacco on our streets is through concerted efforts to reduce smoking.”

Several raids have taken place in the region in recent months and investigations by trading standards officials have led to individuals being charged and appearing in court following seizures.

That includes four family members from Seaham who were jailed for a total of five years, two months, while a man from Spennymoor received an 18-month suspended prison sentence for illegally selling tobacco.

Owen Cleugh, a consumer protection manager with Durham County Council, said: “Illegal tobacco has a serious impact as it makes it easier for children to smoke and brings crime into our communities.

“We would encourage members of the public to help us in tackling this crime and report concerns via the Keep It Out hotline.”

Illegal tobacco makes up about 12 per cent of all tobacco smoked in the North-East, although that figure has been falling.

It is commonly sold from private addresses, known as ‘tab houses’, and also under the counter by unscrupulous retailers.

To report any relevant information call the hotline on 0300 999 000.