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Large quantities of illegal cigarettes, hand rolling tobacco and illegal flavoured tobacco have been seized following coordinated raids on shops in Southend.
The operation was carried out jointly by officers from Southend Trading Standards, Essex Police and HMRC and supported by a specialist detection team using sniffer dogs that are able to identify concealed illegal tobacco products.
The raids were carried out on Tuesday June 29 in response to information received from the public about shops in Westcliff and Southend routinely selling cheap cigarettes and tobacco. In some reported incidents, children were able to buy illegal cigarettes from these shops.
Nearly 20,000 illegal cigarettes and several kilos of illegal tobacco were seized and will ultimately be destroyed. The business owners are being investigated and face prosecution by Trading Standards.
Cllr Martin Terry, cabinet member for public protection, said: “This is a large haul from our officers and is a great example of partnership working between Trading Standards, Essex Police and HMRC. Thanks to the members of the public that alerted the team to this, a large quantity of dangerous and illegal tobacco products are off our streets.
“Smokers are putting their lives at an even greater risk smoking illicit tobacco products due to the many additional ingredients that can be found in them, including rat droppings, dead insects and asbestos.
“We hope this serves a stark reminder that we will not just sit back whilst the public are being put at risk. We will continue to find and destroy any illegal tobacco products we find, and we will also push for large fines to those involved in the sale of these products. I urge anyone who has information about the selling or storing of illicit tobacco to report it to us in confidence.”
Inspector Paul Hogben, of the Southend Community Policing Team, said: “Illegal tobacco and cigarettes are dangerous to people’s health and the criminals who make these products only care about making a profit.
“We work with other organisations such as the council’s Trading Standards team to keep people safe, ensure shops are complying with the law, and to educate shop owners about checking they are buying genuine products for sale in their shops.”
Dangers of illicit tobacco products
Smokers are putting their health at greater risk as Southend-on-Sea is swamped with illegal cigarettes and tobacco.
Rat droppings, dead insects, asbestos and other harmful ingredients are being mixed with poor quality tobacco to be sold off as genuine branded products at a fraction of the legal price.
And there are fears the trade is helping to fund terrorism and organised crime in the UK and abroad.
The sale of cheap tobacco and cigarettes undermines attempts to reduce the prevalence of smoking, and also makes it impossible for legitimate businesses to compete.
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.