Over 150,000 counterfeit and illicit cigarettes with street value of around £75,000 were seized in Staffordshire in 2015/16 by the county council’s trading standards team in an operation funded by proceeds of crime.
Last year, £35,000 was awarded to the county council by central government in order for it to continue the work to combat illicit tobacco and alcohol. This funding has been made available again in 2016/17.
Illicit tobacco has a devastating effect on health. Higher tobacco prices encourage smokers to give up, dissuade people from starting to smoke, and reduce tobacco consumption overall. But where illicit products are widely available at low cost, these benefits are undermined and smokers are less likely to quit. In the UK, it is estimated that about one in 10 of all cigarettes and half of all hand-rolling tobacco are not duty paid.
Although all tobacco is harmful, the county council says illegal cigarettes post a more serious risk to health and safety as there is often no control on their content or quality. Fake cigarettes have been found to contain many dangerous chemicals, dust, asbestos and high tar levels. The illegal trade in tobacco also has strong links to organised crime.
Using the Proceeds of Crime Act funding, the county’s trading standards team has been able to focus on intelligence-led operations.
In 2015/16 the operation resulted in:
- Over 150,000 cigarettes being seized with street value of nearly £75,000
- Almost 50kg of hand rolling tobacco being seized
- 12 arrests being made and 15 investigations carried out
- Two £20,000 fines issued by Immigration Enforcement for businesses who were employing illegal workers
- 100 litres of illicit vodka being seized
- 500 bottles and 265 cans of illegal alcohol removed from sale at an off-licence due to not having an alcohol premise licence
- 1,000 hours of unpaid community work plus fines and costs
- Four licence reviews including a revocation