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Illicit tobacco

Guidance on the law covering tobacco products.

Illegal tobacco survey

The London Tobacco Alliance and London Trading Standards are undertaking work to find out Londoners’ awareness of and attitudes to illegal tobacco. This will inform the design of a campaign to support reporting of illegal tobacco within communities.

All Londoners are invited to take part, not just smokers, as illegal tobacco affects the communities in which it is being sold as well as impacting smokers. The survey should take no more than 10 minutes to complete.

Take part in the survey

What we do

In order to address the problem of the illegal trade in tobacco products, there are regulations that require tobacco to be traceable and for it to have certain security features. The City of Westminster Trading Standards Service is responsible for enforcing these regulations on tobacco.

As a council we are committed to improving standards of community health and safety. One of the ways we do this is by enforcing the law relating to the sale of tobacco.

We do this by:

  • inspections
  • written guidance
  • covert test purchases
  • using detection dogs
  • campaigns with other enforcement agencies

We intend to carry out these activities throughout the year.

Business advice

As a Service we can offer advice and guidance to businesses in the City of Westminster about complying with the trading standards laws regarding the sale of tobacco.

We can only help you if your business is located within the borough. If not, you should contact your local trading standards department. You can find contact details on the Trading Standards Institute Website

For business guidance on law relating to tobacco etc: packaging, labelling, advertising and tracking. Please visit the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) Business Companion tobacco-etc-packaging-labelling-advertising-and-tracking

To legally sell tobacco products within the UK you will need to ensure that you comply with the following requirements:

  • registration of tobacco seller and sales location via the Government portal, this will provide you with two unique identifiers one for the business and one for the locations where tobacco is sold, you will need these to purchase legitimate tobacco products.

Register with the ID issuer if you’re in the tobacco product supply chain

Identifying illicit tobacco

Each outer carton and packet will have a unique identifier printed on the packet as well as the security label to help track and trace tobacco products.

If you are being offered products where the code numbers on the packet or carton are all identical or the numbers are repeated on a number of different packets or cartons, and/or the security label is missing, then do not purchase these products. They can not be legally sold in the UK.

Cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco products may only be sold in retail premises when the packaging complies to the current required standards:

  • the packaging must be in the pantone colour described as 446c as shown above, no other colours are permitted
  • all packaging text must be in English
  • all cigarettes, hand rolling tobacco, pipe tobacco, shisha and blunts must have the three-part health warning covering 65% of the largest two surfaces
  • if any tobacco products include a language other than English, then they should not be sold in the UK
  • cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco in brand colours is not permitted to be sold in retail premises in the UK, the carton or carton sleeve is permitted to be in brand colours but must not be visible to consumers on premises or when the tobacco display is opened for any reason
  • distinctive flavours are banned for cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco
  • products marked 'Duty Free' may not be sold in retail premises other than those that are classed as 'airside departure' at international terminals
  • tobacco products costing less than the minimum duty and VAT for that product, which is approximately £7.71 per packet, although premium brands will be higher

If you are offered tobacco products that appear to be cheap or poor quality or the seller does not provide invoices with their name address, vat number and possibly HMRC registration numbers consider the legitimacy of the product. Report the facts to your local trading standards.

Consumer assistance

If you are offered tobacco that are cheaper than the general high street price, poor quality printed packaging, duty free, incorrect taste and not in the standard correct packaging.

For example, the standard correct packaging for the UK:

Reporting illicit tobacco

If you suspect a premises within the City of Westminster selling illicit tobacco, please contact us.

Please note that we can only help if the premises are located within the City of Westminster.

Published: 27 July 2021

Last updated: 24 May 2023