Raids which saw thousands of pounds worth of illegal tobacco seized in Mansfield and Ashfield were part of a huge national swoop, it has been revealed.
Nottinghamshire County Council’s Trading Standards has played a part in a joint national operation against illegal tobacco products that saw a total of almost 2.6m cigarettes seized across the UK.
Nottinghamshire County Council raided six Mansfield and Ashfield premises in August as part of the operation and seized 13,080 illicit cigarettes and 21 pouches of tobacco worth £6,162.
The seizures led to a loss of an alcohol licence for one shop, two fines, one community punishment order and one prosecution with sentencing pending.
Operation Henry took place between May and November 2014 and involved 81 local authority trading standards services carrying out intelligence led investigations with specialist tobacco detection dogs, leading to 67 seizures across the country.
Coun Alice Grice, Vice-Chair of Nottinghamshire County Council’s Community Safety Committee, said: “We are committed to clamping down on the sale of counterfeit cigarettes in the county and this operation forms part of our dedicated team’s work to catch suspected sellers involved in this illegal act.
“We don’t limit our raids to shops – we have also raided homes that have sold illicit cigarettes on their doorstep and are looking to cut the supply by getting to the big players further up the counterfeit cigarette chain.
“Research has shown that illicit cigarettes are easily available to children and young people due to their low price so it is crucial that we get to grips with this problem.”
Eight days of searches with dog teams supplied by Wagtail UK Limited were made available for each region, funded by the Department of Health and managed by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI).
The dogs quickly and effectively found concealed tobacco products in walls, under floorboards and inside furniture.
HMRC estimates that in 2012-13 the UK economy lost £1.6bn as a result of illicit tobacco. Nine per cent of all cigarettes and 36 percent of all rolling tobacco smoked in this country is believed to be illicit.
There are fears that the widespread availability of illegal tobacco products will undermine efforts to reduce smoking prevalence by making smoking more affordable and accessible.
TSI chief executive Leon Livermore said: “This cooperative work taken against illegal tobacco is a brilliant demonstration of how trading standards services and our partners work behind the scenes to protect the public.
“Worryingly, we can see from the spread and the sheer number of seizures that illegal tobacco is widely available throughout England. Operation Henry shows what can be achieved if funding is provided and trading standards officers are given the resources they need to carry out this incredibly important work.
“However I fear that due to the ever increasing trading standards budget cuts, which we know is up to 80% in some cases, suppliers of illegal tobacco products may have the upper hand unless more can be done to protect trading standards’ budgets.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “We are committed to the fight against illegal tobacco. By taking tough action and working with local authorities, this operation has taken a significant amount of illegal tobacco off the streets.”
Anyone wanting to stop smoking can contact their local stop smoking service through their GP or community pharmacy or through New Leaf on 0800 389 7712 or text ‘leaf’ free to 80800 for Nottinghamshire residents outside of Bassetlaw, or 0800 3288 553 for the Bassetlaw Stop Smoking Services.