Raids conducted by West Yorkshire Trading Standards, West Yorkshire Police and Kirklees Council Licensing team have resulted in the seizure of 90,000 illicit cigarettes and 26.5kg of illegal hand-rolling tobacco. A large amount of cash was also seized, believed to be the proceeds of crime from the illicit tobacco sales.
It is estimated that the value of the tobacco and cigarettes seized would be more than £55,000 if genuine, representing a loss to the tax payer of almost £35,000.
Trading standards officers acting on intelligence and complaints from members of the public visited four premises. Illicit tobacco was found concealed in rooms above the shop. Staff used mobile phones to communicate with others upstairs when a customer asked for cheap tobacco, and the requested product would then be sent down to the counter via a chute
Some of the tobacco products were counterfeit, did not bear the statutory health warnings, were not in the standardised packaging and were non duty paid.
The enforcement operation was carried out with funding from The Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Programme, which aims to help people stop tobacco use by educating the public and by investigating traders who supply cheap and illicit tobacco. The initiative uses multi-agency enforcement and community marketing campaigns to tackle the problems of the illicit trade.
To date the programme has taken nearly seven million illicit cigarettes and two and half tonnes of illicit hand-rolling tobacco off the streets of West Yorkshire. With more inspections planned in the coming weeks, these figures are set to increase. Training sessions with thousands of members of the public and hundreds of front line professionals have been delivered to raise awareness about the dangers and wider criminality associated with the supply of illicit tobacco.
Linda Davis, West Yorkshire Trading Standards Manager said, “The supply of cheap and illicit tobacco is linked to organised crime and contributes to an underground economy worth billions of pounds. Victims of human trafficking are often being forced to sell these illegal products in order to pay off debts or fearing harm to themselves or their families. We are committed to the fight against cheap and illicit tobacco. By taking tough action and working with the police, this operation has taken a significant amount of illicit tobacco off the streets.”
Councillor Steve Sweeney, Member of the West Yorkshire Joint Services Committee which oversees trading standards work, said: “The illegal sale of tobacco in communities enables and encourages young children to buy it cheaply. It is really great that partners are working to tackle traders that break the law. I would like to thank all the partners and members of the public for reporting illegal sales and encourage everyone to continue doing so to reduce the harm caused by tobacco in our communities.”