Croydon Council and HM Revenue and Customs officers have seized almost 10,000 illegal cigarettes in a combined operation that inspected shops around the borough.
Specialist dog teams were used to sniff out tobacco during the raid, held to coincide with a month-long push by trading standards teams across London.
The Croydon inspections on July 3 were carried out at six locations around the borough, with two of them found to be selling tobacco products suspected to be illegal and on sale without duty having been paid on them to the Treasury.
The biggest seizure came at a convenience store in Croydon with a stash of 9,440 cigarettes hidden behind a false wall that opened electronically. The well-known brands found there included Benson & Hedges, Rothmans, Pall Mall, Marlboro and Mayfair. A further 240 illegal, non duty-paid cigarettes were found at another local shop.
Customs officers are now investigating these shops’ owners. Anyone prosecuted and convicted of being involved in selling or supplying illegal tobacco can face penalties including up to 10 years in prison and an unlimited fine. The offence of supplying non duty-paid cigarettes can lead to a punishment of up to seven years in prison and an unlimited fine.
The four remaining stores passed the sniffer dog checks – three of these had been caught selling illegal tobacco on raids in previous years but passed these inspections.
Customers can spot illegal cigarettes because they often do not contain health warnings about smoking or are written in foreign languages. Illegal tobacco is also often sold in unusual locations, such as pubs, private houses, ice cream vans or burger vans.
Croydon Council officers carry out frequent spot checks to see if businesses are selling tobacco illegally to underage customers, who also are at greater risk of becoming regular smokers through buying illegal tobacco that is often cheaper and more accessible.
Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for safer Croydon and communities, said: “This co-ordinated effort between council staff and HMRC is important because illegal tobacco sales damage people’s health and our economy.
“I’m especially pleased that several stores have cleaned up their operations since we last visited, and our trading standards team will continue to work to protect local people from this illegal trade.”