Crackdown seizes more than 2.5m illegal cigarettes
England's first large scale operation by trading standards against illegal tobacco products saw a total of 2,594,858 cigarettes seized, with a value of £614,488.
Operation Henry took place between May and November 2014 and involved 81 local authority trading standards services carrying out intelligence led investigations with specialist tobacco detection dogs, leading to 67 seizures across the country. On average, 56% of premises searched revealed illegal tobacco, with the highest seizure rate coming from the North East of England at 94%.
Eight days of searches with dog teams supplied by Wagtail UK Limited were made available for each region, funded by the Department of Health and managed by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI). The dogs quickly and effectively found concealed tobacco products in walls, under floorboards and inside furniture.
The largest single seizure took place at a self-storage facility in London, where 1.4m illegal cigarettes were found.
In some instances, trading standards services combined intelligence with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) using their mapping data, and carried out joint searches with HMRC officers.
HMRC estimates that in 2012-13 the UK economy lost £1.6bn as a result of illicit tobacco. Nine per cent of all cigarettes and 36% of all rolling tobacco smoked in this country is believed to be illicit.
There are fears that the widespread availability of illegal tobacco products will undermine efforts to reduce smoking prevalence by making smoking more affordable and accessible.
TSI chief executive Leon Livermore said: "This cooperative work taken against illegal tobacco is a brilliant demonstration of how trading standards services and our partners work behind the scenes to protect the public.
"Worryingly, we can see from the spread and the sheer number of seizures that illegal tobacco is widely available throughout England. Operation Henry shows what can be achieved if funding is provided and trading standards officers are given the resources they need to carry out this incredibly important work.
"However I fear that due to the ever increasing trading standards budget cuts, which we know is up to 80% in some cases, suppliers of illegal tobacco products may have the upper hand unless more can be done to protect trading standards' budgets."
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “We are committed to the fight against illegal tobacco. By taking tough action and working with local authorities, this operation has taken a significant amount of illegal tobacco off the streets.”
Notes for Editors:
For further information or to arrange an interview please contact the TSI press office on 01268 582214 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The term 'illegal cigarettes' covers illicit (non-duty paid) and counterfeit cigarettes.
Read the Operation Henry report here.