A raid of 50 retail stores and self-storage units in Bristol and Somerset has uncovered more than 1.2 million illicit cigarettes and 244 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco.

Officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), with support of local Trading Standards officers and 12 sniffer dogs, conducted the raids last week.

Illicit tobacco was discovered in 16 of the premises with 824,829 illicit cigarettes seized in Bristol, along with 100 litres of illicit spirits.

In Somerset, 430,060 illicit cigarettes were seized.

Two men and two women were arrested by HMRC on suspicion of associated money laundering offences and bailed until October.

HMRC assistant director of fraud investigation John Cooper said: “The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies.

“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2 billion a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.”

Councillor David Hall, Somerset County Council’s deputy leader, said: “All tobacco is harmful but illegal tobacco poses an additional threat to our children and communities because it is sold at pocket money prices by criminals who are not interested in asking for proof of age.

“Our officers routinely act on information we receive, and work with partner agencies including HMRC as they did in this case, so I would encourage consumers to continue to report those involved in selling illicit tobacco because their valuable information can significantly aid our investigations.”

Anyone with information regarding tobacco fraud is encouraged to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.