Dozens of packets of illicit tobacco and nearly £2,000 of dirty money were seized as sniffer dogs raided shops in Preston and Chorley.
The dogs uncovered a total of 65 packets of suspected illegal tobacco, as well as £1,780 in cash earned from crime. In the operation, officials visited stores in the two areas as part of the recent crackdown on trade standards.
The loot may have included counterfeit and duty-unpaid tobacco products. These are mislabeled and cannot legally be sold in the UK.
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Sniffer dogs are highly trained and help find tobacco hidden in unusual places like hidden compartments and seemingly empty product boxes. In the last six months, Lancashire County Council’s Trading Standards team has prosecuted 11 cases involving the sale of illicit tobacco and issued three written warnings relating to counterfeit tobacco.
County Councilor Peter Buckley, Cabinet Member for Community and Cultural Services, said: “These scammers use every trick in the book to hide illegal tobacco. It is often very difficult to find and is mostly hidden in secret compartments or tucked away in a corner or in a hard-to-reach place.
“It’s much easier for the sniffer dogs to find. They track them down and can eradicate them in minutes, making life a lot easier for our trade inspectors and police.
“The sale and manufacture of illicit tobacco negatively impacts legitimate local businesses and proceeds from this crime can be used to fund other illicit activities. It also has health implications for our communities and young people. We need to address this issue and regularly respond to information from the public. Even the smallest bit of information can make all the difference.”
County Councilor Sue Whittam, Senior Health Officer, said: “Illegal tobacco is a public health issue and it is important that we do everything we can to stop its sale. The low price and easy availability of these illegal products encourages continued smoking, and children and young people are often targeted by unscrupulous traders. These crackdowns on trading standards are vital and send a clear message that we will not tolerate illegal tobacco sales in Lancashire.”
PC Lena Garnham, of the Chorley Neighborhood Policing Team, said: “The purpose of this operation was to target specific businesses believed to be linked to the sale of illicit tobacco in Preston and Chorley. Illegal products like these have the potential to harm public health as the chemicals added to these products are not monitored or licensed in any way.
“The people who make money from it don’t care who they sell to. Children and teenage smokers are often targeted by illegal cigarette sellers, making it easier for them to become addicted to smoking. The availability of illegal cigarettes makes it difficult for people to quit smoking and stay smoke-free.
“We would urge anyone who knows anyone involved in the sale of illegal tobacco or counterfeit goods to contact us so we can safely remove these products from the streets.”
Anyone with information about the sale of illegal tobacco should call the Crimestoppers confidential helpline on 0800 555 111 or report Trading Standards through the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 232 1133. You can also report it through Trading Standards Scambuster Stan’s Facebook page.