As the UK economy still struggles to recover from recession and the cost of living keeps rising, the temptation for smokers on low incomes to buy cheap, imported cigarette brands can be overwhelming.

But if the well-known and documented fatal health risks from smoking cigarettes are not enough to stop the deadly habit, the latest analytical reports, which found that up to a third of illegally imported cigarette contained asbestos fibresalong with other dangerous waste materials, might do the trick.

Despite all the best efforts by Customs and Excise, the illegal importation of cheap counterfeit cigarettes via Europe onto UK streets continues. A significant percentage of illegal fake brand cigarettes are known to originate from China where labour and manufacturing costs are around ten times less than the most well-known global brands. China also possesses one of the world’s biggest asbestos industries.

However, research recently carried out by major cigarette brand manufacturers has uncovered evidence that the cigarettes contain an additional cocktail of deadly substances including asbestos, dead insects, mould, human excrement and in one instance, crushed flies. A previous investigation from earlier in the year, which found nearly two in every ten packets to be illegal, now discovered a staggering 200 per cent increase.

The discovery of asbestos in cigarettes is not only highly dangerous in the present but also has painful historical significance for thousands of cigarette industry workers and countless millions of smokers in the mid 1950s, a peak period for asbestos use in many diverse products.

For many workers in asbestos-using industries, asbestos awareness of the deadly health dangers was often ignored or minimised. As a result, one cigarette brand, Kent, eventually become well-known for producing over 13 billion cigarettes with filters containing asbestos fibres in a five year period up until they were finally withdrawn in 1957.

It is now recognised that even exposure to the smallest amounts of asbestos fibres has the potential to cause long term health risks fromasbestosis to the fatal mesothelioma cancer. A long gestation period often means that the first signs of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms may not become apparent for up to 50 years.

With the recession predicted to continue for at least another five to ten years, the opportunities for flooding the UK with inferior quality, cost-price goods are only likely to escalate. Street traders offering asbestos-filled cigarettes is a great cause for concern, especially as fake goods are often almost indistinguishable from genuine brands.

With more than 1.8 million people annually exposed to asbestos and at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year, the addition ofasbestos-laced cigarettes with their deadly fibre residues could be a significant issue if the illegal trade is not stubbed out soon.