Over 5.5 million illegal cigarettes and 645 kg of hand rolling tobacco were seized by local Trading Standards within the Central England Trading Standards Authorities (CEnTSA).
The cigarettes and tobacco were seized in the last financial year (2016/2017) with a loss to the tax payer of over £2 million. The total retail value of the illegal goods is estimated to be worth in excess of £2.5 million.
In Coventry, over 1 million cigarettes and 170kg of hand rolling tobacco have been seized in the past year. 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.
Cllr Abdul Khan, Coventry City Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Policing and Equalities, said: “We take the issue of illegal tobacco in Coventry very seriously, and we’ve had a number of successful seizures – with the most recent in the city totalling another 500,000 illegal cigarettes and 93kg of loose leaf tobacco.
“Selling illegal tobacco puts the health and safety of our residents at risk and often funds other serious crimes, and we won’t tolerate it in our city.”
All offending businesses are subject to a criminal investigation, with some traders already being successfully prosecuted. Some have been sent to prison, others have received financial penalties, or suspended prison sentences and community orders.
In addition, some shops have had their alcohol licences suspended or revoked for dealing with illegal tobacco products.
Bob Charnley, Chairman of CEnTSA, said: ‘‘More and more people over the past few years have decided enough is enough and are providing information to Trading Standards, to stop local criminals selling and distributing illegal tobacco. Combating illegal tobacco has become an increasing priority for Trading Standards. The illegal tobacco trade has strong links with crime and criminal gangs, including drug dealing, money laundering, people trafficking and even terrorism. Selling illegal tobacco is a crime.”
He added: ‘‘Retailers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their approach, adapting their methods in order to avoid detection. Some businesses had gone to great lengths to conceal the illegal tobacco in secret compartments, including BBQ sets, fake floor boards, false walls, ovens and fridges. You may hide it, but we will find it.’’
Illegal tobacco products can usually be easily recognised. They will be very cheap, often less than half the price of legitimate packets and often have foreign writing on them.
Anyone being offered cheap tobacco or any other types of illicit goods should report it to Trading Standards by calling the CEnTSA’s confidential fakes hotline on 0300 303 2636.