Over 1 million cigarettes and 170kg of hand rolling tobacco have been seized in the past year by Coventry Trading Standards officials.
The value of these confiscated goods would have been worth around £475,000 if they had been genuine UK duty paid goods. These goods however were either counterfeit or smuggled to avoid tax, so in terms of street value they would have been worth around £245,000.
This huge haul has been confiscated over the past year after Coventry Trading Standards conducted 148 visits to various shops across the city. Seizures have also occurred from cars, vans and private houses that are often used to store the illegal tobacco.
The supply of illegal tobacco is highly organised; with some shops even building sophisticated hiding places to conceal their illegal tobacco. Some of the concealments were operated by remote control which opened a secret compartment built into the shops counter, or operated a lift mechanism that was built into the shops floor or walls.
Trading Standards frequently have to use trained tobacco search dogs to hunt for the tobacco because the hiding places as so good they cannot be seen by the naked eye. Only the dog’s keen sense of smell can pinpoint the hidden stash.
The Police and Immigration Officers often attend these visits because other criminality can also be discovered during these shop searches, such as illegal immigrants found working inside the shops and vehicles being used which have no insurance or tax.
Many of the seizures have led, or will lead to formal enforcement action including prosecution or review of the premises licence.
It is well known that smoking poses a serious danger to health, especially illicit tobacco which is manufactured illegally with little regard to what is put inside it. This cheap tobacco, which can be sold for as little as £3.00 a packet, also puts children at risk because they are selling harmful goods at pocket money prices. The counterfeit cigarettes are usually manufactured without the self-extinguishing properties of genuine cigarettes and as a consequence pose a greater fire risk, that in some cases have been linked to deaths.
Coventry’s Public Health team worked in partnership with Trading Standards last year and provided them with funding to help with the work they are doing in reducing the availability of illicit cheap tobacco within the city.
Allan Harwood, Trading Standards and Consumer Protection Manager said “The level of seizures reflect the efforts we are putting in to stop the illicit trade in counterfeit and smuggled tobacco.
We have had single seizures in excess of 100,000 cigarettes and have visited some shops three times in the same day only to find they have restocked with illicit tobacco.
We will be conducting more visits, and targeting those in the supply chain of this sophisticated and organised crime”.
Liz Gaulton, Acting Director of Public Health at Coventry City Council, said: “Illegal tobacco poses a dangerous risk to people’s health and we want to clamp down on it. Our work with trading standards will make sure that we can put an end to cheap tobacco availability in the city.
“We will continue to work with partners to ensure that we can reduce tobacco consumption in general across the city as part of our mission to create a smoke free Coventry.”
Anyone who has information about anyone selling these products can contact trading standards on 03454 040 506 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org