Over 7 million illegal cigarettes and 478 kg of hand rolling tobacco have been seized by local Trading Standards within the Central England Trading Standards Authorities (CEnTSA), Warwickshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service can report.
The cigarettes and tobacco were seized in the last financial year (2017/2018) with 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. Such hiding places are difficult to detect without the aid of specialist tobacco sniffer dogs.
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.
Warwickshire County Councillor Andy Crump, Portfolio Holder for Community Safety said: “Far from being a victimless crime, the 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 tax payer means less money being spent on local communities, schools and the NHS.’’
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.”
Mr Charnley added ‘‘retailers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their approach, adapting their methods in order to avoid detection. Some businesses had gone to great lengths to conceal the illegal tobacco in secret compartments, including hydraulic lifts in floors, false walls and fridges. You may hide it, but we will find it.’’
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.