Retailers are being urged to take a more pro-active approach to halting the sale of illegal tobacco in their area.

The call from trading standards officers and trade associations comes after a retailer from Derby was found guilty of storing and selling large quantities of counterfeit cigarettes at his store in Normanton.

The retailer, who had been making more than 50% profit on each £3.50 packet of Chinese-made cigarettes, was caught after a number of smokers complained of being violently ill after smoking them. Tests carried out on the counterfeit haul revealed that they contained highly toxic ingredients including asbestos and rat droppings.

The retailer, who was given a 12-month community order, a £200 fine and 120 hours of unpaid community work, claimed he had been forced to turn to the illicit trade in order to compete with other stores.

Ken Patel, national spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance (TRA), said it was vital that retailers took immediate action against illicit trade in their areas. He also urged retailers to stick to their normal sources of supply no matter how tempting an offer may be.

"Obviously, when other retailers are selling illicit stock there is the temptation to compete on a level playing field, but retailers must not under any circumstances sell non-UK duty paid or counterfeit tobacco in their shops," he said.

A recent TRA survey found that 58% of retailers were aware of illegitimate tobacco products being sold in their area, but only a small number actually reported their concerns.

National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) national councillor Hitesh Pandya said that a lack of time, and the fear of repercussions, prevented many retailers from taking action.

"Ultimately, retailers have a responsibility to each other and to their own businesses to report any concerns they have. Calls are free and confidential," he added.

You can call the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.