More than 17,000 illicit cigarettes and 13kg of hand-rolling illicit tobacco has been seized by trading standards and West Mercia Police officers from retailers in Shrewsbury and Oswestry, Shropshire.
The raids occurred following tip-offs from the public, leading to trading standards and police officers visiting the stores accompanied by specialist sniffer dogs, trained to locate tobacco.
Much of the tobacco and cigarettes seized are suspected of being counterfeit, whilst other issues have been identified under current UK safety legislation, such as breaches relating to the mandated health warnings and plain packaging requirements. Samples will be examined and tested to confirm their provenance. The produce has an estimated street value of around £7,000.
Shropshire Council’s head of trading standards and licensing Frances Darling said: “The specialist sniffer dogs are a terrific addition to our capabilities on these operations. Their keen sense of smell has been able to locate a significant amount of illicit tobacco this week, and this is despite the tobacco being well hidden and the scent masked with other substances such as cloves and strong chemicals in a clear attempt to thwart the dogs in their work.”
Darling added that the effort put into hiding the tobacco made it clear the alleged perpetrators knew it is illegal activity. “The ways in which those involved in this trade try and hide the goods clearly indicate they know it is illegal and that enforcement agencies will be coming to look for these products. Overall, we are very pleased with the results. It sends a very clear message to those who wish to trade in unregulated, counterfeit products, that we will disrupt their activities to protect the health of our local communities.
“Apart from the obvious significant health problems that smoking causes, we must not forget that the loss of business to the sellers of genuine products will be well in excess of the estimated street value of the seized products and, of course, there is also the corresponding losses to the exchequer/state, where no VAT will have been paid. This wider economic impact affects us all.”
Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for adult social care, public health and assets Dean Carroll added: “We clearly know that smoking is seriously harmful to health and the impact on public services to treat smoking-related diseases is significant. The nature of illicit products means the risks can be even greater.
“The council is committed to reducing this impact, and steps to remove illicit tobacco products from the market is a key element of our approach. We, with our partners, will continue to act upon information received from the public regarding the sale of these products. I urge anyone who has any information to report it to trading standards by contacting the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133 or you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”