Cheshire East Council trading standards officers have seized cigarettes and tobacco worth more than £9,000 during a swoop against suspected fraudsters.
More than 20,000 cigarettes and 5kg of rolling tobacco were uncovered during raids on seven properties in Crewe (Monday, Feb 29) coordinated by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) and supported by the Department of Health.
Officers and sniffer dogs discovered concealed stashes of tobacco at five of the premises, with products hidden in various areas, including a false wall and a freezer.
The intelligence-led ‘Operation Henry 2’ has been targeting illicit tobacco supplies in nine regions of England using specialist tobacco detection dogs.
Councillor Paul Bates, Cabinet member for communities and health, 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 black market in tobacco, and in particular the availability of cheap cigarettes, makes it harder for smokers to quit and remain smoke free.
“We are an enforcing Council and our trading standards officers are working hard to keep these illegal 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 10 years in prison.”
The seizure included non-duty-paid tobacco and counterfeit tobacco, which cannot be legally sold in the UK.
CTSI chief executive Leon Livermore 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.
“About 80,000 people die from smoking-related diseases each year in England alone, costing the overstretched NHS an estimated £2bn.
“Together, we are winning the battle and figures show that the market share of illicit cigarettes has dropped from 21 per cent to nine 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 HM Revenue and Customs (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 has resulted in the seizure of more than 2.5 million cigarettes worth £614,488.
Anyone with information about illegal tobacco can call the Tackling Illegal Tobacco hotline on 0300 999 0000 or report online at: www.keep-it-out.co.uk