Over seven million illegal cigarettes and 478kg of hand rolling tobacco have been seized across the region by local Trading Standards teams from the Central England Trading Standards Authorities (CEnT
The cigarettes and tobacco were seized in the last financial year (2017/2018), with a loss to the taxpayer of nearly £2million.
The total retail value of the illegal goods is estimated to be worth in excess of £3million. The amount of illegal product seized has increased year on year in recent years, with the amount of illegal cigarettes seized last year being almost 30% higher than a record seizure figure the previous year.
In March this year more than 50,000 illegal cigarettes and almost 300 packets of hand-rolling tobacco were seized by Worcestershire County Council’s Trading Standards officers, accompanied by specialist detection dogs from Wagtail UK, from two retail premises in Evesham and Redditch. They had a street value of over £20,000.
Cabinet Member for Communities, Councillor Lucy Hodgson, said: "Far from being a victimless crime, illegal tobacco trade creates a cheap source for children and young people.
"Whilst all tobacco is harmful, the illegal tobacco market, and in particular the availability of cheap cigarettes, undermines government health policies aimed at reducing the cost to the NHS of treating diseases caused by smoking. The loss to the taxpayer means less money being spent on local communities, schools and the NHS."
Perpetrators are getting more inventive with hiding places in shops, which can include sophisticated concealments using electronic magnets controlled by a switches, hydraulic compartments in floors, false back to a fridge, as well as cavity wall compartments. Such hiding places are difficult to detect without the aid of specialist tobacco sniffer dogs.
All offending businesses are subject to criminal investigation. Previous detections have led to traders being successfully prosecuted. Some have received financial penalties, others in the region have been given suspended prison sentences and community orders.
Shops involved in these activities risk having their alcohol licences suspended or revoked for dealing with illegal tobacco products.
Bob Charnley, Chairman of CEnTSA said: "More and more people over the past few years have decided enough is enough and are providing information to Trading Standards, to stop local criminals selling and distributing illegal tobacco. Combating illegal tobacco has become an increasing priority for Trading Standards services across the region. The illegal tobacco trade has strong links with crime and criminal gangs, including drug dealing, money laundering, people trafficking and even terrorism. Selling illegal tobacco is a crime."
Illegal tobacco products can usually be easily recognised. They will be very cheap, often less than half the price of legitimate packets and often have foreign writing on them.
Anyone being offered cheap tobacco or any other types of illicit goods should report it to Trading Standards by calling the CEnTSA’s confidential fakes hotline on 0300 3032636.