BLACK market cigarettes make up almost a third of those smoked in Woking, according to a recent survey, putting children at risk of criminal exploitation.
The borough has a higher ‘non domestic’ rate than the national average with incidents rising from 10.6 per cent in 2011 to 32.29 per cent at the end of 2012.
The increase in bootlegged, smuggled or counterfeit cigarettes is shown in an Empty Discarded Pack Collection survey by MSIntelligence.
Criminal gangs who are selling the sham merchandise are known to target youths.
Byfleet councillor Ann Roberts said: “It is extremely worrying to think this is affecting our residents and our children.
“I am deeply concerned that this sort of thing is going on.”
The study reveals that 33.3 per cent of all packs in the south east are illegal or purchased outside the UK.
This means that a third of the region’s cigarettes are contributing nothing to the Exchequer.
Smuggled cigarettes cost the taxpayer up to £3.6billion in revenue during 2009-2010, according to an HM Revenue & Customs estimate.
Councillor Roberts added: “I would ask our residents to be alert. I think this is something that we should work on together.”
The level of non-duty-paid cigarettes also increased nationally to 26.4 per cent – the highest recorded level since the survey began in 2008.
More than 12,000 packets from streets and bins were tested in 105 cities across the UK.
The figures do not include hand-rolled tobacco, for which HMRC estimate as much as half the UK’s consumption is illegally sourced.
This comes as the Government is consulting plans to introduce compulsory plain packaging to all cigarette packets, which is a controversial move, according to Surrey Police.
Former Scotland Yard detective chief inspector Will O’Reilly has been conducting research to gain intelligence into the UK’s illicit cigarette trade.
Mr O’Reilly reckons selling illegal tobacco is a primary source of revenue for some criminal gangs and terrorist groups and it has reached epidemic proportions in parts of the UK.
He said: “Just as the armed robberies of the 1970s and 80s made way for the drugs trade, and large-scale fraud in the 90s, so a new crime of choice has now emerged, which carries even less riskand even greater profits for those committing such crimes.”