Illegal tobacco peddlers feel the heat

Logo for Worcestershire Trading Standards Published Monday, 8th August 2022

During 2021/22, Worcestershire County Council’s Trading Standards team removed over 200,000 illegal cigarettes and over 57Kg of illegal hand rolling tobacco from outlets within the County.

In its on-going work to tackle the illegal tobacco trade in the County, the County Council has successfully prosecuted three traders following the seizure of counterfeit and illicit cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco.

The seizure was carried out by the county’s Trading Standards service, which had an equivalent retail value of approximately £55,000.

The latest three cases were heard at Worcester Magistrates’ Court on 17th June 2022, followed a full investigation by Trading Standards.

During the hearing, Mr Alan Rasoul Osman trading as European Mini Market, 46 St Johns, Worcester, pleaded guilty to 13 offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994, Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 and Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016.

Osman was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 60 hrs unpaid work and ordered to £2,785 prosecution costs and a victim surcharge of £95.

This shop has subsequently changed hands and is now under new ownership.

Palawan Morabab trading as Red and Black Supermarket, 47 Foregate Street, Worcester pleaded guilty to 9 offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994, Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 and Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016.

Morabab was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 60 hrs unpaid work and ordered to £2,671 prosecution costs and a victim surcharge of £95.

This shop too, is now under new ownership.  

Councillor Marcus Hart, Cabinet Member for Communities at Worcestershire County Council said,

“Selling counterfeit tobacco deprives the country of taxes to fund vital public services like the NHS and undermines public health campaigns to help people quit smoking to protect their health. Illegal tobacco is often half the price of legitimate products, and this fact alone encourages people to continue to smoke.”

“These products can also be very dangerous for consumers. They often won’t self-extinguish, which can make them a significant fire risk. The trade in illegal tobacco is driven by organised crime gangs, who may also be involved in people trafficking and worse. Allowing the sale of illegal products in our communities, risks encouraging further crime and anti-social behaviour, damaging cohesion. We want to send out a message to other unscrupulous traders that we will not tolerate the sale of illegal products in the county. Taking action to stop these criminals and make our communities safer is a priority.”

Finally, Mohammed Ali Kamal trading as Yasmin Supermarket, 37 Lowesmoor, Worcester pleaded guilty to 19 offences, with 3 further offences being taken into consideration, under the Trade Marks Act 1994, Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 and Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016.

Kamal was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 220 hrs unpaid work and ordered to £2,704 prosecution costs and a victim surcharge of £95.  

In all three cases the offending tobacco products was to be forfeited and destroyed.

The cases were part of operations run during 2020 and 2021 that included the case heard by Worcester Magistrates on 8th April 2022 against Mr Ali Ahmad who was given a 12-month Community order with 250 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay costs totalling £3,500 following multiple seizures from the International Food & Drink store at 24-26 Lowesmoor, Worcester.

Some 884 packets of cigarettes and 124 pouches of hand rolling tobacco were seized, with a total street value of over £4,000. Had the products been genuine, the retail value would have been in excess of £10,000.

Subsequent to this, on the 28th June, at a review hearing brought by the Trading Standards team, before a Sub-Committee of Worcester City Council’s Licensing Committee, elected members determined to revoke the licence for this premise run by Ali Ahmad.

Illegal packets of cigarettes are priced on average at £4.50 to £5.00 compared to over £10 for legitimate products, and even more for packets of hand-rolling tobacco. Government has, over the years, used taxation to increase the price of tobacco products to encourage people to give up, with tobacco use still being a major determinant in the different health outcomes seen in communities.

Investigations continue into criminal activity, and it is likely that there will be further prosecutions brought against those who sell illicit tobacco.

Anyone who has information about the sale of illegal tobacco in Worcestershire can report it to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133 or via the Report-It page on the Trading Standards website.