Over a quarter of a million counterfeit and illicit cigarettes and 56kg hand rolling tobacco with street value of around £150,000 were seized in Staffordshire in 2016/17 by the county council’s trading standards team.
The county council invested money from its proceeds of crime funding to continue its work to combat the supply of illicit tobacco and alcohol. This funding will continue in 2017/18.
Illicit tobacco has a devastating effect on health. Higher tobacco prices encourage smokers to give up, dissuade people from starting to smoke and reduce tobacco consumption overall. Furthermore new tobacco legislation being introduced in May will mean all cigarettes must be sold in packs of 20. Illicit products are widely available at low cost, meaning these benefits are undermined and smokers are less likely to quit. In the UK, it is estimated that about one in 10 of all cigarettes and half of all hand-rolling tobacco is illicit.
Although all tobacco is harmful, there is often no control on the content or quality of illicit tobacco. Fake cigarettes have been found to contain many dangerous chemicals, dust, asbestos and high tar levels. The illegal trade in tobacco also has strong links to organised crime.
Using the Proceeds of Crime Act funding, the county’s trading standards team has been able to focus on intelligence-led operations.
Staffordshire County Council’s trading standards manager Brandon Cook said:
Our anti-counterfeiting operation over the last 12 months has been a real success. As a result of this work, we have been awarded proceeds of crime funding – meaning money confiscated from criminals was used directly to combat crime. We can therefore use our resources in other areas. In addition to disrupting the supply of counterfeit and illicit goods, we also want to raise awareness people of the public health dangers that illicit and counterfeit goods. This includes illicit alcohol and tobacco and extends to goods such as cosmetics and electrical items. We also want to thank people for giving us any information about the sale of such goods – this information really can make a difference.”
In 2016/17 the operation resulted in:
• Over 250,000 cigarettes being seized with street value of nearly £125,000
• 56Kg of hand rolling tobacco being seized with street value of nearly £25,000
• Nine arrests being made and 20 investigations carried out
• 1,200 hours of unpaid community work plus fines and costs
• Six licence reviews resulting in combined 30 weeks of licence suspensions
People with any information about illicit tobacco or other goods can contact Staffordshire’s Fight the Fakes hotline on 01785 330356.