News item

Hefty fine for illegal tobacco retailer

A Catford retailer has been fined £12,000 for selling illegal tobacco.
The Catford Food Centre in Rushey Green was caught out when Lewisham Council’s Trading Standards Team inspected the property and became suspicious about a sale of cigarettes being made to a customer. 

Further enquiries revealed that the cigarettes were labelled in Polish and a search of the premises found large amounts of cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco with no English safety warnings.

In total, officers seized 15,000 cigarettes and over 5kg of hand rolling tobacco. Evidence was also obtained that suggested at least 71,000 similar cigarettes had previously been supplied along with a further 30kg of hand rolling tobacco.

Messrs Archie's Gold Limited (trading as Catford Food Centre) were fined by Greenwich Magistrates court on 2 October after pleading guilty to three different charges brought by Lewisham Council under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

The court imposed a fine of £4,000 for each offence totalling £12,000, costs of £762 and a victim surcharge of £120. A forfeiture order for destruction of the seized items was also granted to Lewisham Council. 

Councillor Susan Wise, Cabinet Member for Customer Services, said: “This is a very positive outcome and I’m pleased that justice has been served. The sentence sends out a strong warning message to individuals involved in the supply of illegal tobacco products in Lewisham. 

“Organised criminal gangs play a key role in the supply of illicit tobacco, especially counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes. This illegal trade does damage well beyond adverse health impacts and loss of government revenue as it can support other criminal activity such as the supply of controlled drugs, stolen goods and illegal alcohol.”

Lewisham Council, the police and HM Customs, carry out targeted raids on premises considered to be selling illegal tobacco. Any proprietor found to stock or sell these will be liable to prosecution. Illegal tobacco can be reported anonymously by phoning the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08454040506.


Notes to Editor

The prosecution was brought under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 for breaches of the Tobacco Products (Manufacture, Presentation and Sale) (Safety) Regulations 2002. These regulations require that tobacco products are marked with various health warnings about the dangers of smoking. The warnings must be in English.

In August 2013, boroughs across South East London joined forces to curb the sale of illicit tobacco after a report found that 114 million illicit cigarettes with a street value of over £22million are sold annually in the region by organised criminal gangs.

The campaign involving the police, fire service, community safety, health and trading standards teams from Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark raises awareness of the health and fire risks associated with the illegal trade, as well as its links to other crimes.

A survey, commissioned earlier in the year by the six South East London boroughs, surveyed over 1,700 local smokers about their tobacco purchasing habits. Key findings included: 
• illicit tobacco represented around 15% of the tobacco consumed
• 40% of smokers indicated they had bought illicit tobacco in the last year which implies a very high degree of acceptance of the illicit trade
• 80% of smokers who bought illicit tobacco said they were known to or introduced to the seller implying that the market is largely covert
• more than 50% of the illicit tobacco being bought was believed to be counterfeit and posed a fire risk in people homes
• illicit cigarettes are manufactured for as little as 15p per pack of 20 cigarettes but sold in the UK for around £4 per pack or less (compared to legal cigarettes which cost between £6 and £8 per pack)
• sellers of illicit tobacco are selling to people too young to legally buy tobacco products (aged 18).
DATE: 10 October 2013