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Illicit tobacco trade targeted in trading standards operation

Illicit cigarettes found under floorboards

North East Lincolnshire Council’s Trading Standards team have seized 31,120 illicit cigarettes and 14.3kg of illicit tobacco with a street value of £7.658.50 in a large scale operation against illegal tobacco.

Illicit products were discovered during the raids that were coordinated by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) and supported by the Department of Health.

Officers from North East Lincolnshire Council’s Trading Standards team were joined by officers from Humberside Police in carrying out the inspections.

The intelligence-led Operation Henry 2 will tackle illicit tobacco supplies in nine regions of England, over six months, using specialist tobacco detection dogs from Wagtail UK.

Detection dogs discovered concealed stashes of tobacco during visits to five shops and a flat in Grimsby.

The biggest stash of illicit products seized was found in an elaborate hiding place beneath the floorboards of a flat. There was a hinged flap concealed under a sink in the flat where the cigarettes could be dropped into the shop below.

Cllr Terry Walker, portfolio holder responsible for consumer protection at North East Lincolnshire Council, said: “People who deal in illegal tobacco are more likely to encourage others, especially children and young adults, to smoke.

“All tobacco is harmful but the illegal tobacco market and in particular the availability of cheap cigarettes make it harder for smokers to quit and remain smoke free.

“Our trading standards officers are working hard to keep these illicit products off the streets and are cracking down on the businesses and individuals that flout the law.

"Detection dogs can find tobacco and cigarettes in the most unlikely places and in addition to having their stock confiscated offenders could face unlimited fines and up to ten years in prison.”

Inspector Neil Pattison from Humberside Police said: “The illegal trade in counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco can be a major source of funding for organised crime groups. Additionally, the products can also represent significant health risks for local communities due to their manufacture being completely unregulated.
“We have a responsibility to tackle these issues with partner agencies and we will continue to do so.
“If you have information about any people or businesses selling counterfeit or illicit tobacco products in your community, report it now.“

The seizure included 31,120 illicit and counterfeit cigarettes and 14.3kg of illicit and counterfeit tobacco, which cannot be legally sold in the UK. If sold legitimately, the haul would be worth £19,111.25.

It brings the total number of seizures in North East Lincolnshire since the crackdown began to 410,828 cigarettes and 339.1kg of tobacco – with a street value of £122,759 and £309,903 if bought legitimately.

Leon Livermore, CTSI chief executive, said: "The illegal tobacco trade costs taxpayers about £2 billion per year in lost revenue and is known to fund organised crime networks and criminal gang activity.

“Meanwhile, about 80,000 people die from smoking related diseases each year, in England alone, costing the overstretched NHS an estimated £2 billion.

“Together we are winning the battle and figures show that the market share of illicit cigarettes has dropped from 21 per cent to 9 per cent in the last decade.

"Intelligence-led investigations like Operation Henry 2 keep illegal cigarettes and tobacco off the market and away from children and young people."

Richard Las, deputy director of fraud and investigation service at HMRC, said: "HMRC works closely with other enforcement agencies to crack down on illicit tobacco in the UK.

"Seizing illicit product is only one of the tools used; the focus is on using a range of interventions, from penalties to prosecutions, to encourage compliance and maximise deterrent.

"Partnership working with trading standards is vital in order to share intelligence and collaborate on joint exercises such as Operation Henry to target those areas with the highest levels of illicit tobacco activity."

Launched last year and supported by the Department of Health, Operation Henry was the first large scale coordinated trading standards investigation of its kind to tackle the supply of illegal tobacco.

It resulted in the seizure of more than 2.5 million cigarettes worth £614,488 with concealed tobacco products found in walls, under floorboards and inside furniture.

Anyone with information about illegal tobacco sales in the borough can report it in confidence to North East Lincolnshire Council Trading Standards on 01472 326299 (option 3).