10th March 2022

Operation CeCe celebrates success

An operation to clamp down on illegal tobacco sales has removed more than 13 million illicit cigarettes from the market in its first year.

By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
The illegal tobacco trade harms children, wider communities and businesses and props up organised crime

Operation CeCe, a joint initiative between National Trading Standards (NTS) and HMRC, has resulted in more than £7m worth of illegal tobacco products being removed from sale in its first year.

As part of the crackdown, more than 13 million illegal cigarettes, 4,300kg of hand-rolling tobacco and 109.5kg of shisha products have been seized. The illegal trade costs the Treasury £2bn each year, harms legitimate businesses and presents a serious danger to public health.

Acting on NTS intelligence, trading standards officers across England and Wales have seized the illegal tobacco products from retail and residential premises, disrupting the market and preventing fraud. This on-the-ground action is part of a broader strategy that tackles three ‘tiers’ of criminality, with illegal factories abroad being shut down by HMRC and Border Force intercepting smuggled products and cash at the UK border.

NTS Director, Wendy Martin, said: “The illegal tobacco trade harms children, wider communities and businesses and props up organised crime. That’s why I am delighted with the success of the first year of Operation CeCe, which clearly demonstrates the benefits of this new joint approach to tackling this vile trade at every level, from the street upwards.

“I’m immensely proud of our partners in local authority trading standards for all their work so far. We look forward to continuing to play our part in preventing illegal tobacco from damaging people’s health, strengthening efforts to reduce the number of people who smoke and stopping many legitimate, tax-paying businesses from being undersold.”

Operation CeCe is estimated to have prevented £8.75 in detriment for every £1 spent on it. HMRC has committed to providing the project with £800,000 of funding annually over the next three years to 2025, plus additional funding of £200,000 for the period January-March 2022.

Richard Las, Head of Operations at HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: “The ongoing collaboration between HMRC and NTS shows how serious we are about tackling the illegal trade in tobacco. No crime is victimless. Trade in illegal tobacco undermines legitimate traders, including small, independent shops that serve local communities, and takes funding away from our vital public services. That’s why coordinated activity such as Op CeCe is vital to ensure that we are creating a level playing field for businesses and citizens.

“The excellent work of our teams is also helping to stop tax crime fuelling a raft of other illegal activity that harms communities, including drugs, guns, and human trafficking.”

CTSI Chief Executive, John Herriman, said: “Helping enforce tobacco laws is one of the crucial responsibilities of trading standards professionals, who have made significant contributions to the ongoing success of Operation CeCe.

“I applaud National Trading Standards for their sterling work, protecting the health of our communities and making sure illegitimate businesses are prosecuted whilst protecting legitimate ones. I look forward to hearing about the continued success of this ground-breaking operation which is removing vast quantities of illicit tobacco from our streets.”

Major raids on street-level sellers carried out as part of Operation CeCe include:

  • 680,380 illegal cigarettes seized from a residential property in Banbury, Oxfordshire, that were advertised for sale via Facebook. These products had an estimated market value of between £150,000 and £200,000.
  • Over 1,300 packets of illegal cigarettes and £70,000 in cash seized following a raid on a so-called ‘tab house’ in Newcastle. The occupants were found to have links to organised crime groups.
  • 900kg of hand rolling tobacco seized in Hull, Yorkshire.
  • 267,000 illegal cigarettes seized during a raid in Cardiff, Wales.
  • 216,000 illegal cigarettes and 349.7kg of hand rolling tobacco seized in Croydon, south London.



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