We joined ex-Scotland Yard detective inspector, Will O’Reilly, and his team of ‘test purchasers’ from tobacco company Phillip Morris to witness first-hand the "rife" trade in under-the-counter unregulated products.
Within two hours of shopping on Wednesday (february 18), the team was able to buy counterfeit tobacco and ‘illicit whites’ - cigarettes made in unregulated factories in the United Arab Emirates and Belarus - from 27 Ealing shops.
Shopkeepers - when asked for duty-free or specific illicit cigarettes - were seen pulling BAGS of counterfeit goods and cash from under the counter.
Mr O’Reilly said: “We have purchased more illegal tobacco and cigarettes in Ealing than we have in locations right across the UK, bar only Manchester and Birmingham.
“I would say this is a very big problem in this borough and needs to be prioritised by Trading Standards. This is just the tip of the iceberg here.
"There are websites where illicit tobacco can be ordered and collected from Ealing.
“This is not a victim-less crime as many think. Counterfeit tobacco and illicit cigarettes are made and brought into the country by organised criminal groups and terrorist organisations like ISIS.
"There is a huge amount of money to be made from the sale of goods like these.”
Packets of 20 counterfeit Camel, Marlboro Lights and Silk Cut cigarettes were readily sold for around £4 as well as single cigarettes for 50p each.
Fifty-gram bags of counterfeit tobacco, which would usually cost £17 if legal and including taxes, were being sold for just £4. And bags containing over 200 packets of cigarettes were also available for sale for £35.
Demand is so high for the illicit goods that shopkeepers along The Avenue, in West Ealing, and Greenford High Street, had sold out and were waiting for shipments of more.
Test purchaser ‘Eva’ - whose name has been changed to protect her identity - previously worked for Northumbria Police. She said: “I’m alarmed at how the selling and buying of tobacco of this kind has obviously become the norm in this part of London.
“Every cigarette funds the availability of drugs on our streets, gun crime or terrorist attacks, making our communities and our streets less safe.”
An Ealing Council spokesman said: “We are aware of allegations of the sale of illicit tobacco and counterfeit cigarettes in the borough. We will be liaising with relevant prosecuting authorities to investigate the matter further.”
Mr O’Reilly and his team will be presenting their evidence to HMRC and Trading Standards.
Shopkeepers found guilty of selling counterfeit tobacco products can be jailed for up to 10 years under the Trademarks Act.
As much as £2.1billion a year in tax is lost as a result of the sale of counterfeit and illicit tobacco.