SMOKERS buying cheap cigarettes in Barnsley have been warned they are putting their lives at risk - after tests on seized tobacco in the town revealed counterfeit tobacco was ‘highly dangerous’ and a major risk to users’ health.

Ten packets of smuggled cigarette products, seized since the beginning of the year from Barnsley shops, were analysed by a laboratory in Gateshead last month before lockdown started, thanks to funding provided by South Yorkshire Police’s violence reduction unit (VRU).

Three-quarters of the seized tobacco was found to be dangerous, according to Barnsley Council.

All legal cigarettes are self-extinguishable, to reduce to the chance that they should set fire to sofas, beds and other combustible materials.

However, some of the illegal cigarettes that are being sold are not self-extinguishable, and have been attributed to a number of house fires and deaths.

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Coun Jim Andrews, cabinet spokesman for public health, said: “No cigarette is good for you, but fake cigarettes contain even higher levels of cancer-causing toxins than standard cigarettes, so people should think twice about buying them - you could be putting your home or your family at risk by smoking them.

“As well as being a fire risk, fake products have also been found to contain high levels of contaminants, for example up to six times the level of lead and three times the level of arsenic found in ordinary cigarettes, as well as rat and mouse droppings and dead insects.

“During this time when people might be experiencing financial difficulties, it might be tempting to buy cheaper cigarettes, but I urge them to put the safety of themselves and their families first.”

If smokers remain unsure over a product’s legitimacy, the council urged people to check packaging for incorrect spelling and logos or look out for unusual taste and smell.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings was awarded £1.6m in government cash last August to set up the VRU to help resolve crime such as illegal gangs peddling counterfeit cigarettes.

A stipulation of the award was that at least 20 per cent should be used to assist practical work to cut the escalating cycle of offending - but the decision was made to use more than half the cash for that purpose.

Rachel Staniforth, joint head of the VRU, added: “Not only are these tobacco products dangerous for the health of the individuals, but the purchase of these goods could be funding organised crime in our communities such as drug supply and child criminal exploitation.”

If you see anyone buying these type of cigarettes in a shop, or have any information regarding illegal tobacco, you can report this to the regulatory services on 01226 773743.