Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Friday, 18 April 2008 11:01 UK

Fake cigarettes campaign launched

Logo from the Counterfeit Kills campaign
The campaign logo gives a hard-hitting message

A campaign to warn smokers of the dangers of buying counterfeit cigarettes has been launched in the West Midlands and Staffordshire.

The Counterfeit Kills campaign will aim to increase public awareness of the illicit cigarette trade and the health risks of smoking fake varieties.

Customs officers seized more than 50 million illicit cigarettes in the West Midlands in 2007.

More than 70% of seizures involved counterfeit products, officials said.

Nearly 4,250 kilos of hand rolling tobacco was also seized in the region.

Officials say counterfeit cigarettes can contain higher levels of chemicals including arsenic, cadmium, benzene and formaldehyde, in addition to sawdust, tobacco beetles and rat droppings.

The campaign has been organised by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in conjunction with Smokefree Alliance groups in the region.

Keith Morgan, detection manager for HMRC, said: "This is not an innocent or victimless form of crime but one that encourages otherwise honest people to trade with criminals.

"These gangs are unlicensed and unregulated... the huge profits they reap from cigarette sales is ploughed straight back into the criminal underworld, feeding activities like drug dealing and fraud."

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