West Sussex County Council Trading Standards found illegal cigarettes in four of the eight shops it visited in a planned operation it conducted as part of Operation CeCe.
Over 5,000 illicit cigarettes were seized from the four shops in Worthing and Bognor Regis, as well as illegal disposable vapes.
Trading Standards and HMRC Enforcement Officers were accompanied by three specialist tobacco detection dogs and their handler. The cigarettes were all concealed in hidden parts of the four shops and had clearly been placed so they would not have been found without the specialist Cocker Spaniel detection dogs.
Peter Aston, Trading Standards team manager, said: “All forms of tobacco products are harmful whether purchased from a legal or illegal source, but the illicit trade undermines efforts that have been made to reduce smoking, making it harder for smokers to quit and making it easier for non-smokers to start and ex-smokers to relapse. The availability and typically lower price of illicit tobacco also encourages young people to take up smoking.
“Working with partner agencies and specialist detection dog teams we will continue to take robust enforcement action against any shop selling illicit tobacco in West Sussex. As well as seizing stock found, store owners face prosecution and if they sell alcohol the presence of illegal tobacco can be grounds for their alcohol licence to be suspended or revoked.”
Duncan Crow, Cabinet Member for Community Support, Fire and Rescue, said: “We are committed to keeping people in West Sussex safe from buying counterfeit items, or products illegally imported into this country.
“Together with our partner agencies, we will continue to crack down on those who continue to sell illegal tobacco products.
“I hope the results of this joint operation send a strong message that if shop owners deal in illicit tobacco, they should expect to be caught, have their stock removed and face criminal charges and possible investigation from HMRC if duty has been evaded.”
Operation CeCe a joint initiative between National Trading Standards and HMRC to tackle the illegal tobacco trade.
Read our in-depth feature to find out more about what is being done to tackle the illicit tobacco and vape trade
Who to contact if you suspect illicit tobacco trading:
HM Revenue & Customs’ - report online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887)
Trading Standards via Citizens Advice report online or call the consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133
Crimestoppers - report online or call 0800 555 111
Imperial Tobacco - www.suspect-it-report-it.co.uk or call 0800 0495992
Download SARA (Suspicious Activity Reporting App)