Three people are under investigation after illegal tobacco raids were carried out at eight shops in Stoke-on-Trent.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council Trading Standards, supported by Staffordshire Police and Immigration Enforcement, targeted the premises in Hanley, Stoke and Longton following months of evidence gathering.
In total over the course of two days, 100,000 counterfeit cigarettes and 20kg of counterfeit hand-rolling tobacco were seized, which had an estimated retail value of £68,000 and street value of £11,000 – with £35,000 of duty being evaded.
Many of the goods were hidden in sophisticated hiding places in the buildings with specialist search dogs used to find them. Investigations are now under way.
Councillor Randy Conteh, cabinet member for communities and safer city, said: “Some people think this is a victimless crime, but it’s far from it and the consequences can be devastating. The trade in illegal tobacco creates a cheap source for children and young people, and harms businesses that are trading legally. It also undermines all of the good work being done to stop people smoking, and the illegal tobacco trade more often than not has strong links to other criminal activity.
“We will always take action against anyone found to be involved in the storage, distribution or supply of illegal tobacco and full investigations have now been launched into these seizures. It’s another good result for our Trading Standards team, working alongside their partners at the police. The message is clear – you will face consequences if you deal in these illegal products.”
During the 2018/19 financial year, illegal cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco with a combined street value of more than £300,000 were seized in the city.
Sergeant Phillip Ferns, neighbourhood policing team deputy commander at Staffordshire Police, said: “We are very pleased with the amount of goods that have been seized during this joint operation in Stoke-on-Trent. Often these items are likely to be linked to organised crime groups to fund criminal activity.
“We take the supply of illegal cigarettes very seriously and we will pursue those who sell them. Unregulated products can pose a serious health risk and these goods are not taxed or legally brought into the country.
“These results demonstrate the strength of partners working collectively to protect our communities. We will continue to work together to tackle rogue trading and unlawful behaviour by businesses.”
For all media enquiries please contact the Communications Department at Stoke-on-Trent City Council on 01782 232987 (journalists only).