I live in London near the Holloway Road, one of the most notorious hotspots for sale of counterfeit cigarettes.

The British Government is concerned about these cigarettes, because they are not only illegal, but contain arsenic and all sorts of other nasty chemicals that make them even more dangerous to smoke than the more expensive legal variety.

Citing Customs minister John Healey, the BBC recently reported that “85% of cheap cigarettes sold illegally in London … were counterfeit.” (On Holloway Road the figure was 100%.)

It’s clear that some sophisticated organised crime is behind this, as a BBC investigation in 2003 showed. But could the supply chain that ends up near my doorstep begin somewhere in North Korea?

Barry Briggs of the the excellent North Korea Zone today noted this story from Chosum Ilbo:

Japan’s Sankei Shimbun reported Friday that U.S. authorities have discovered North Korea has been producing imitation Western cigarettes and distributing them in Europe to earn foreign exchange. The paper said that during recent discussions with the Japanese government, a U.S. official expressed concern that North Korea was producing imitation versions of two brands of U.S. cigarettes and distributing them in Europe.