News item

Tobacco barons targeted

Raids continue to take place across the country as council trading standards officers crack down on illegal tobacco houses, car boot sales and industrial depots to seize thousands of fake and smuggled cigarettes along with kilos of illicit hand-rolled tobacco.

Setting up illegal businesses within private homes is becoming increasingly popular with criminals taking advantage of vulnerable adults desperate to save money.  Many are even profiting from children, with no regard to their health, whilst law-abiding retailers are reporting a drop in profits.

The latest Tobacco Control Survey undertaken by Local Government Regulation revealed that over the past year:

  • 3427 premises were targeted with over half resulting in seizures of illicit tobacco - an increase of 26 per cent from 2008/09;
  • 85 per cent of council trading standards teams have investigated illicit tobacco products. Over half of these operations were conducted jointly with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs;
  • 937 complaints and enquiries were received about illicit tobacco products, which is an increase of 31 per cent on the previous year;
  • 44 convictions have been secured by council trading standards departments.

Cllr Paul Bettison, chairman of Local Government Regulation, said:

'Counterfeit tobacco can be made from almost anything.  People smoking it have no idea what they are inhaling.
'Unfortunately, it’s all about making a quick profit with heartless criminals not caring who they sell it to.  The fact that they are introducing children to a habit that they would otherwise not be able to afford is irrelevant to them.

'The work of council trading standards officers is essential if we are to protect people and businesses. Residents can report their suspicions at any time either via Crimestoppers or to their local council’s trading standards department.'

Recent seizures include:

Coventry Council used specially trained sniffer dogs to help the trading standards team find in excess of 20,000 counterfeit cigarettes this month.  The contraband with a potential street value of £3,500 was located in a variety of places during house raids including a bed base, between the beams of a floor and between packets of food.   Investigations into supplies of illicit tobacco in Coventry have seized over 100,000 cigarettes and packets of tobacco in the last six months.

Three recent raids of tab houses in Gateshead, two of which took place simultaneously, followed a thorough investigation by Gateshead Council trading standards officers in conjunction with Northumbria Police. The haul included 3,600 cigarettes and 171 packets of rolling tobacco.
Middlesbrough Council’s trading standards officers recently raided a number of private properties and seized 2,500 cigarettes and two kilos of hand-rolling tobacco.  More than 1kg of hand-rolling tobacco and 2,000 cigarettes were recovered in a previous raid last month.  A local survey has revealed that up to 65% of local smokers buy cigarettes from private homes, believing they are smuggled rather than counterfeited. 
People in North Somerset are also being warned of the dangers after trading standards officers investigated two men selling illegal tobacco at a car boot sale.  Raids carried out at the home of one of them resulted in a haul worth over £5,000.  Seventy 50g pouches of Golden Virginia were seized along with 1500 packets of Richman cigarettes.
Salford City Council's trading standards have raided several warehouses across the city and uncovered a secret distribution depot for illicit tobacco. Since the start of 2010 over £16,000 worth of goods have been seized including over 49,000 cigarettes and 213 packs of handrolling tobacco.

Whilst statistics released from Portsmouth revealed that a fifth of local smokers are breaking the law by buying from the illegal trade. The survey also showed that 49% of residents want the problem tackled.  A local campaign has been launched to raise awareness. 

However, the Trading Standards team at South Tyneside Council report that their job is being made harder by adults who regard the tobacco barons as `community champions’ or modern-day Robin Hoods. A recent study found that six homes on one South Tyneside  estate were centres for cheap tobacco that was either counterfeited or smuggled into the country.

Local Government Association press release 20 November 2010