A series of undercover investigations in Tipperary has shown illegal cigarettes are available to purchase in every major town in the county.
Over the last three months two intelligence led operations by a team of former detectives have uncovered a booming illicit cigarette trade with counterfeit and illegal cigarettes available to purchase in Thurles, Nenagh, Roscrea, Templemore, Clonmel, Cahir, Tipperary Town and Carrick-on-Suir.
The illegal cigarettes and tobacco were found for sale in shops, pubs, hotels, private residences and car parks.
The team of investigators were headed up by former Garda Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Donohoe and Former Scotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector Will O'Reilly who conducted the purchasing operation on behalf of the Philip Morris cigarette company. Last week the team spent 48 hours in four different North Tipp towns in a bid to highlight the ever growing illegal tobacco trade.
The three types of cigarettes and tobacco sold on the black market are contraband legitimate brands smuggled from countries where they are cheaper to buy, counterfeit brands packaged to look like well known legitimate brands and illicit whites which have their own brands.
An illicit 'white brand' cigarette is defined as being manufactured legally in one country but is smuggled illegally across borders to a state where they are sold without legal distribution and tax payment.
Organised crime gangs are often known to deal with illicit white cigarettes with one shipping container estimated to be able to result in a profit of €1.5million.
Counterfeit and illicit brands are produced in unregulated, back street, pop-up factories in China, Eastern Europe and UAE. A crackdown last year by Polish authorities led to the closure of some 47 of these factories however Kevin says this is only the tip of the iceberg.
These pop-up factories can appear and disappear just as quick and move on to a different location.
Significant trade is also orchestrated through Facebook and other social media sites with sellers openly admitting they can get whatever a buyer is looking for.
Testing carried out on illicit tobacco and cigarettes have found traces of human faeces, rat droppings and remains of flies. Similarly the unregulated market also means that cigarettes are not fire safe and lack flame retardant properties. These types of cigarettes also contain up to 500 percent more cancer causing chemicals compared a safely manufactured one.
Illicit White brands are some of the many items the team uncover during the sting.
For full story see this week's Tipperary Star.