A quarter of a million illicit cigarettes and 56kg of tobacco were seized last financial year by the county council’s trading standards team as part of a regional operation.
The team received 472 calls from the public to its Fight the Fakes hotline. In total the haul would have fetched around £150,000.
Across the Central England Trading Standards Area (CEnTSA), local teams seized over seven million illegal cigarettes and 478 kg of hand rolling tobacco over the financial year.
This represents a loss to the tax payer 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.
The seizures were often well hidden, in sophisticated concealments using electronic magnets controlled by a switch, hydraulic compartments in floors, false back to a fridge, as well as cavity wall compartments. These hiding places are difficult to detect without the aid of specialist tobacco sniffer dogs.
Staffordshire County Council’s communities leader Gill Heath said:
Last financial year was another successful one in terms of our trading standards team’s operation to tackle illicit tobacco sales. This has contributed to the wider efforts of trading standards teams across the region and their work will continue.
Counterfeit tobacco is damaging to people’s health and can undermine smoking cessation efforts as it is usually sold at a cheaper price. In addition, illicit cigarettes can be a fire risk as they do not self-extinguish when left to burn as legitimate cigarettes do.
Over the course of the year our Fight the Fakes line took over 470 calls so has been a real asset. We are always grateful to people who report suspected sales of illicit tobacco – the information they give really can make a difference.”
All offending businesses are subject to criminal investigation, with some traders already being successfully prosecuted. Some have received financial penalties, others, suspended prison sentences and community orders.
In addition, some shops have had 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. 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 303 2636. They can also call Staffordshire’s Fight the Fakes hotline on 01785 330356.