The owner of a Walthamstow shop has been fined £2,000 after council officers discovered him selling smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco to customers.
In all more than 20,000 cigarettes and nine kilos of rolling tobacco were found secreted around Copper Mill Off Licence in Coppermill Road. The stash was found during a raid by Waltham Forest Trading Standards using a specialist detection dog on January 30, 2020.
Sole trader Mehmet Pektas admitted 17 offences, claiming that he had bought the contraband for £2,800 from a stranger who had come into his shop. Illegal tobacco is often linked to organised crime. Counterfeit or fake cigarettes are not regulated and have been found to contain high levels of tar, dirt, and even droppings.
Smuggled or bootlegged tobacco comes from abroad bypassing customs and excise and avoids paying duty, meaning they can be sold far cheaper than by law-abiding stores. Anti-smoking charity ASH has said that such illegal trade offering cheaper cigarettes also encourages children to smoke.
Cllr Clyde Loakes, deputy leader of Waltham Forest Council and cabinet member for the environment, said: “This was great work by our Trading Standards team. Thanks to tip-off from a member of the public, they were able to bust this illegal enterprise in the heart of our community.
“Illegal cigarettes not only carry significantly more health risks, but they also deprive our vital public services such as the NHS of funding through loss of tax revenue. The trade puts law-abiding businesses at a disadvantage and feeds into serious criminality.
“Make no mistake, this is not a victimless crime and I’d urge anyone who knows of a shopkeeper selling under the counter cigarettes to report it to our Trading Standards team.”
On November 8, Thames Magistrates Court heard that Pektas said he sold the cigarettes to customers who bought sweets. He claimed sales of the illegal tobacco helped him meet his expenses to keep the business running.
In total 1,080 variously branded packets of 20 cigarettes, sold for between £4.50 – £5, and 183 various branded packets of hand rolling tobacco, sold for between £6 -£16, were seized. They were found behind the shop counter and in boxes stored on top of a refrigerated drinks unit positioned at the rear of the shop floor.
Pektas was fined £1,124, in addition to £1,276 costs and a victim surcharge of £112. He was given 28 days to pay.
To report businesses trading in illegal tobacco to Waltham Forest Trading Standards, call 0208 496 3000 or email [email protected]. You can also contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133