Recent activities by the Heart of the South West Trading Standards service highlight the risks run by those who sell illicit tobacco products in the region.
On 28 July, a shop that sold illegal tobacco products was forced to close following an investigation by the service, while a series of raids carried out on 22 July resulted in the seizure of more than £200,000 worth of illicit tobacco.
A closure order on premises on Bampton Street in Tiverton was granted under Section 80 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Disorder Act 2014 following a tip-off that illicit tobacco products were being sold there. Subsequent test purchases and inspections by Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service unearthed more than 3,000 packets of cigarettes and more than 800 pouches of hand-rolling tobacco, many of them counterfeit.
Councillor Dennis Knowles, Cabinet Member for Community Well Being at Mid Devon District Council said: “It was important to shut the property down given the negative impact on the community and the criminal behaviour. The success in obtaining the closure order demonstrates the effectiveness of joint working to deal with ‘problem premises’.
“It’s taken our legal team less than a month to get the closure order from when they were contacted by Trading Standards. An impressive turnaround given this was the first commercial premises the Council has sought a closure order for.”
Alex Fry, Operations Manager, Intelligence & Investigations, for Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service said: “This sends a clear message to retailers. If you sell illegal tobacco, there will be consequences for you and your business, and your livelihood will be impacted.
“The sale of illegal tobacco is not a victimless crime – the availability of cheap, illegal tobacco at pocket money prices encourages children to start smoking and puts them at risk and it harms the majority of retailers who play by the rules.”
Nowhere to hide
In a separate series of investigations, Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service Officers seized illegal tobacco in raids in Devon and Somerset estimated to be worth more than £200,000.
Carried out with the support of Avon & Somerset Police, Devon and Cornwall Police, the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit and HMRC, the seizure is one of the largest of its kind by the service.
Search warrants were executed with the assistance of specially trained sniffer dogs at two retail premises, a residential address and storage container in Taunton , two business addresses in Exeter and Yeovil, and a business and residential premises in Tiverton. Two commercial vehicles were also searched.
A coordinated raid by Northamptonshire Trading Standards took place on a linked business premises in Northampton.
Heart of the South West Trading Standards has now seized illicit tobacco worth more than £310,000 across the service area during 2021 and 2022.
Fakir Mohamed Osman, Head of the Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service said: “Our Trading Standards team is playing its part in tackling this trade which has a links to organised crime. The trade in illicit cigarettes takes business away from legitimate retailers and undermines public health efforts to reduce smoking rates.
“Using the dogs helps searches to be completed more quickly so more premises can be checked. We will continue to act on intelligence to target unscrupulous sellers making money from this illegal activity.”
Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Trading Standards, said: “For retailers and members of the public who think they can get away with this illegal activity there really is nowhere to hide.”
Investigations into those premises found selling the items are ongoing.