Traditionally illegal tobacco products are foreign-labelled brands, sold under the counter at discounted rates.
The recent seizure in Oxford is the first time Oxfordshire County Council Trading Standards has recovered fully priced counterfeits from an otherwise legitimate tobacco gantry. The counterfeits were labelled in standardised plain packaging,
The enforcement swoop is part of the county council’s commitment to help residents live safe and healthy lives. Its Trading Standards team is now stepping up its war against fakes.
They recently inspected 1,400 storage lockers in a single day. This was part of a joint operation with six other local authorities, seizing nearly £250,000 worth of counterfeit tobacco products, class A drugs and cannabis across the South East.
Jody Kerman, Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards Operations Manager, said: “We can all play a part in spotting and reporting counterfeit cigarettes.
“Major UK brands of cigarettes each contain a unique code at the bottom of the packet. So, for example, if you see two packets of Marlboro(s) with the same code, then that could be an indication the product is counterfeit.”
The code 5OE WW9 6AR JFC is known to be on a batch of counterfeit cigarettes packs that have been circulating in Oxfordshire.
Councillor Judith Heathcoat, the County Council’s cabinet member for Community Safety, said: “There’s no such thing as a safe cigarette, but these counterfeits are a public health menace, deviously disguised as legitimate products.
“The best thing you can do to protect your wellbeing is choose not to smoke. However, for anyone struggling to ‘kick the habit’, it’s appalling that you are being exploited by organised criminals; duping traders and the public alike by peddling these counterfeits.
“The packets we discovered in Oxford were being sold at £12.50 rather than at the discounted rates normally associated with counterfeits. This is extra money into criminals’ pockets; not going to help the NHS.”
Tobacco fraud is reported to cost the UK around £2.5 billion a year whilst treating smoking-related illnesses costs the NHS over £2 billion annually.
Retailers selling illegal tobacco could lose their licence, face unlimited fines and be jailed for up to 10 years.