Law-abiding shopkeepers say the trade in bootleg cigarettes and tobacco is putting their livelihoods at risk.
Retailers in Leeds and Wakefield say they are losing custom because they are being undercut by people selling cheap cigarettes that have been smuggled into the UK.
It comes after an undercover operation by tobacco giant JTI found 22 shops in Leeds selling illicit products.
Jessica Nandhra. who runs the Loco store on Cross Lane in Farnley, Leeds, said she had lost between £1,000 and £2,000 a week, largely as a result of a string of shops selling illicit tobacco products in nearby Armley.
“If it carries on the way it’s going, it will have a massive impact,” she said.
“It might get to a point where a lot of legitimate retailers don’t even stock cigarettes any more.”
“It’s not just the loss of cigarette sales – when someone comes in to buy 20 cigarettes, they might buy a chocolate bar or a drink. That’s where we make money.”
John Parker, from A Parker and Son newsagents on Lower Warrengate, in Wakefield, is another retailer who has seen a dramatic decrease in sales.
He said: “I’ve lost a lot of business and it is difficult for us. It’s the same for many honest retailers in Wakefield.”
In a test purchasing operation last year JTI found shops across Leeds selling illicit tobacco and cigarettes.
In unrelated swoops last week HM Revenue and Customs officers and West Yorkshire Trading Standards searched 20 shops in Harehills and Beeston and seized 71,227 cigarettes and 11.25kgs of hand rolling tobacco.
Jo Tyler, assistant director of criminal investigation at HMRC, said: “We want to warn local shopkeepers who are being offered cheap deals on tobacco to only buy their stock from legitimate and reputable sources, as selling duty free or counterfeit products is a serious criminal offence.”
To report illegal tobacco sales, call 0800 595000.
Next week: In the third in a three-part series looking at the illegal tobacco trade, we examine its links to organised crime.