Illicit tobacco and vapes on the rise with generation ban expected to fan flames of illegal activity JTI research reveals

Illicit tobacco and vapes on the rise with generation ban expected to fan flames of illegal activity JTI research reveals

Research* from JTI (Japan Tobacco International) has revealed that more than a quarter of retailers (28%) have seen a rise in customers openly asking for illicit tobacco and vape products.

A quarter of retailers (26%) state that their store has been negatively impacted due to the sale of illicit tobacco and vapes by other businesses in the area, with 30% of retailers aware of one or more stores within a three-mile radius allegedly selling illicit products.

With two thirds of retailers (67%) also saying that they expect the proposed generational tobacco ban will lead to an increase in illicit tobacco activity**, there is concern within the industry that illegal products will become more prevalent, damaging sales for the majority of hard-working retailers.

Three quarters (76%) of retailers* said that in their view the main reason other retailers sold illicit tobacco or vape products was to boost sales, adding that customers appear increasingly tempted to buy these illicit products because they are cheaper than their legal equivalents.

Sarah Connor, Director of Communications at JTI UK, said: “The sale of illicit tobacco and vapes continues to be a major thorn in the side of legitimate retailers across the UK, taking away thousands of pounds in revenue.


“In the UK, the illegal tobacco trade is already thriving, with 11% of cigarettes and 35% rolling tobacco being smuggled into the UK in 2021/22 according to HMRC[1]. There is a real risk that the government’s proposed generation ban could exacerbate this, handing money to serious and organised crime groups that manufacture and sell illegal tobacco and vapes.

“The prohibition of legal products always has dangerous side effects and opens the door to criminal gangs to sell illegal products, as we saw in South Africa in 2020 following a temporary ban on tobacco products.

“There is currently a real concern amongst retailers around the policing of illicit trade, and with the proposed generation ban this fear is growing. In fact, 66% told us that they don’t believe the government has the required funding or resources to enforce the legislation and New Zealand, the only country in the world to introduce legislation for a Generational Ban, has chosen to repeal it.

“Retailers can play a vital role in combatting the illicit trade. We’re working closely with our retail partners to ensure that they are knowledgeable and confident in communicating the dangers of illegal products to their customers.”


Over two thirds (72%) of retailers surveyed said they would welcome more regulation around the selling of legal tobacco and vaping products. Stricter penalties and fines, more frequent visits from Trading Standards and strengthening border controls to reduce the supply of illegal products into the UK were the most-common responses from retailers in terms of support needed to help tackle the issue of illicit tobacco.

One in three retailers have implemented specific training programmes for their staff to identify and prevent the sale of illicit tobacco and vaping products, but more support from above was identified as necessary. One retailer surveyed went as far to say: “I have been in business for 28 years and Trading Standards has only checked on me and the stock I sell twice, it is not good enough.”

JTI is calling for stronger collaboration between the government and the tobacco industry to prevent the sales of illicit tobacco and vapes.

For retailers concerned about the impact of the proposed generational tobacco ban on illicit activity in their area – they can find their and contact their local MP here:

If retailers know of a store that is selling illicit tobacco or vapes, they should report them by calling Trading Standards through the Citizen Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.

For further support, retailers can reach out to JTI’s Customer Care line on 0800 163503 or visit JTI’s trade retailer website



*Research conducted with 250 independent/symbol convenience retailers for JTI UK on behalf of Acorn Retail Promotions.

** Research conducted with 1,000 independent and symbol convenience retailers for JTI UK on behalf of Acorn Retail Promotions. 

[1] Measuring tax gaps 2023 edition: tax gap estimates for 2021 to 2022. HMRC, June 2023 –