A total of 15,000 illegal cigarettes and 5kg of illegal rolling tobacco have been seized from shops in Southend as part of a joint operation between Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s Trading Standards team and Essex Police.
In total, two premises were raided: one on Southchurch Road and the other on Sutton Road.
Trading Standards officers and Essex Police were assisted by a specialist sniffer dog unit in carrying out the unannounced checks on 24th May as part of a crackdown on illegally imported and fake tobacco products being sold in the Borough.
The illegal consignments will now be destroyed and each of the businesses faces legal ramifications.
Carl Robinson, Director for Public Protection, said: “This is the fifth operation in eight months and altogether nearly 30,000 cigarettes and 17.5kg of rolling tobacco have been seized.
“Together with Essex Police, we are sending out a very clear message to anyone selling illegal cigarettes that they will be caught and met with severe repercussions.
“While some people view selling under-the-counter cigarettes as a victimless crime, we have previously found counterfeit cigarettes containing asbestos and human excrement, posing a huge risk to anyone smoking them.
“What’s more, the production and sale of counterfeit cigarettes is linked to large-scale organised crime, diverting £3bn in unpaid duty away from public services such as the NHS, and often into the pockets of crime bosses.”
Trading Standards frequently have to use trained tobacco search dogs to hunt for the tobacco because the hiding places are so good they cannot be seen by the naked eye. Only the dogs’ keen sense of smell can pinpoint the hidden stash.
The Police, Customs and Excise 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.
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