TRADING standards officers have seized nearly 20,000 cigarettes in a Staffordshire-wide crackdown on tobacco smuggling.
Staffordshire’s trading standards officers, accompanied by a specially trained sniffer dog visited 13 shops in Burton, Uttoxeter and Stafford last week.
They seized a total of 19,850 cigarettes and 7.75kg of tobacco, which would retail at £14,000 if it was legitimate. The operation was supported by Staffordshire Police, East Staffordshire Borough Council and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
Illicit tobacco was found at seven premises and eight arrests were made.
The raids were part of an ongoing operation to combat the sale of illicit tobacco in Staffordshire, and were funded using money taken back from criminals.
Nearly £35,000 in funding from proceeds of crime is being used to tackle the problem of counterfeit and untaxed tobacco and alcohol.
Counterfeit alcohol can contain hazardous chemicals which can seriously harm people’s health while illicit tobacco often contains harmful substances.
Staffordshire County Council’s trading standards leader Gill Heath said: “The sale of illicit tobacco is a crime which damages communities and harms legitimate businesses and we will take action against traders who knowingly sell it.
“This operation demonstrates that we take this issue seriously. We target our resources where we know the sale of illegal and sometimes dangerous tobacco and alcohol is going on. Now we can reinvest money recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act from criminal activity in Staffordshire. This is good news for Staffordshire as we’re helping to keep people safe at no extra cost.”
Staffordshire County Council is working with HMRC and other organisations to crackdown on sellers of illegal tobacco and alcohol and encourage people to steer clear of potentially harmful counterfeit products. The proceeds of crime funding will also be used in community projects which will help to raise awareness of the issue.
The Home Office specifies that incentive payments from the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 should be used to fund local crime fighting operations and to seize more illegal goods. Last year the county council’s trading standards team uncovered around 100,000 illegal cigarettes and 25kg of illegal tobacco with an estimated street value of £50,000 in addition to several seizures of illicit alcohol.
Ms Heath added: “The availability of illegal tobacco and alcohol in Staffordshire is no greater than anywhere else but does present a significant problem. In the UK, it is estimated that about one in 10 of all cigarettes and half of all hand-rolling tobacco are not duty paid. The illegal trade in tobacco has strong links to organised crime and illicit tobacco has a devastating effect on health. These products are widely available at low cost and this undermines efforts to discourage smoking through higher pricing of legitimate tobacco.
“The county council has worked hard to combat the sale of illicit alcohol and tobacco in recent years. We have received a great deal of information from local people on shops and individuals suspected of selling illicit tobacco products which plays a big part in our operations.”
The sale of illicit tobacco with foreign labelling breaches public health laws requiring pictorial and English health warnings. Much of the tobacco and cigarettes being sold are either counterfeit or fabricated brands manufactured with no quality control. In addition to the health risks and links to other crime, illicit sales harm legitimate traders.
A further £15,000 funding from proceeds of crime is being invested in tackling counterfeit goods sales in Staffordshire.
Anyone with information about the sale of counterfeit tobacco and cigarettes in Staffordshire should call the Fight the Fakes hotline on 01785 330356 or www.staffordshire.gov.uk/fakes
People can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.uk or 0800 555 111.