Illegal cigarettes worth around £7,000 have been seized by trading standards officers in a series of planned raids on 12 premises across Birmingham.
Teams of officers targeted shops and off licences in Soho and Handsworth using two sniffer dogs, as part of a national crackdown on the sale of illicit tobacco – products which have been smuggled in, illegally produced or for which no duty has not been paid.
The raids were carried out in partnership with local police teams and the Trading Standards Institute and HM Revenue and Customs (HRMC), as part of Operation Henry, which is targeting addresses across nine regions in England. The Department of Health have funded the use of the sniffer dogs provided by Wagtail UK.
Birmingham City Council’s Trading Standards Service has stepped up the number of inspections it carries out, as illegal tobacco has become more widely available across the city.
The illegal products seized during these inspections included cheap foreign labelled products that breach consumer protection legislation and are also non-duty paid; these cannot be legally sold in the UK. A small quantity of counterfeit hand-rolling tobacco was also seized; all products will be destroyed in due course. The raids were conducted as a result of information provided by the public.
The contents of all cigarettes are harmful and contain around 4,000 different chemicals including known carcinogens. However with illegal tobacco its provenance is unknown and could therefore contain further dangerous ingredients – and imported tobacco products are often much stronger than regulated brands. Previously tests on counterfeit cigarettes have revealed they contain plastic, sand and even rats’ droppings.
Cllr Barbara Dring, Chair of the city council’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: “These raids have successfully taken around £7,000 worth of illegal tobacco out of circulation.
“Those involved in dealing in illegal tobacco may be encouraging people, including children to smoke by providing a cheap source. This activity also brings crime into our neighbourhoods, which is why it is important to clamp down on it.
“The detection dogs can find tobacco and cigarettes even if hidden in the most unlikely places. Offenders need to know that they will face consequences if they choose to deal in these illegal products.”
Notes to editors:
The raids took place on Friday, 13 June.
In 2013/14, Birmingham City Council carried out 110 inspections on a variety of retailers, seizing approximately 22,000 cigarettes and 17.5kg of rolling tobacco.
Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer, causing one in four deaths from cancer.
Overall 100,000 deaths are caused by tobacco each year in the UK.
Trading Standards Institute (TSI)
Leon Livermore, chief executive of TSI, said: “This partnership is one more example of how trading standards works with the private and public sector to protect consumers and support legal business practices. Through this partnership, trading standards has a unique opportunity to share information and develop intelligence with the aim of taking illicit tobacco off the streets.”
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
Richard Las, the HMRC’s deputy director of criminal investigation, said: “HMRC works closely with other enforcement agencies to crack down on illicit tobacco in the UK. Seizing illicit product is only one of the tools used; the focus is on using a range of interventions, from penalties to prosecutions, to encourage compliance and maximise deterrent.
“Partnership working with Trading Standards is vital in order to share intelligence and collaborate on joint exercises such as Operation Henry to target those areas with the highest levels of illicit tobacco activity.”