A multi-agency operation, involving the use of specially-trained sniffer dogs, has resulted in nearly £4,000 worth of illegal cigarettes and tobacco being seized from a Bridgwater off-licence and a sophisticated hidden storage area identified in a Taunton shop.
Designed to crack down on the illegal trade in black market tobacco, Officers from Devon & Somerset Trading Standards, and Avon & Somerset Police, were joined by Scamp, Phoebe and Yoyo, tobacco detection dogs funded by Smokefree South West, that can sniff out illegal tobacco wherever it is concealed.
The latest action follows hot on the heels of the seizure of 60,000 illegal cigarettes and 11kg of hand-rolling tobacco from premises in Bridgwater and Taunton in December last year. This resulted in new information being received from the community and prompted the latest Operation.
In one premises, although illegal tobacco was not discovered, hidden storage units concealed within door-frames and operated by remote electro-magnet were identified with all three detection dogs indicating that tobacco had recently been stored there.
Councillor David Hall, Deputy Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “Those involved in this illicit trade won’t be checking people’s ages and will sell to children at pocket money prices. That’s unacceptable and we will continue to act on the information we receive and bring to book those we suspect of selling illegal tobacco.”
Inspector Andrew Pritchard, of Avon and Somerset Police, added: “Our officers will continue to support these partnership initiatives. The Police recognises that the sale of illegal tobacco within our local communities is intrinsically linked to serious, organised crime. If you are tempted to buy a cheap packet of counterfeit cigarettes, you should know that your money could ultimately end up in the pocket of criminal gangs who use it to fund drug dealing, weapons and money laundering.”
Fiona Andrews, director of Smokefree South West, which supported the initiative, said: “The public in Somerset told us clearly during our awareness campaign last summer that they don’t want criminals putting our children at risk or making it harder for adults to quit by making illegal tobacco available so cheaply. We are pleased to fund the detection dogs to help our enforcement colleagues continue to sniff out illegal tobacco.”
Councillor Christine Lawrence, Chair of the Somerset Health and Wellbeing Board, Somerset County Council, said: “Our young people are particularly at risk from the illegal trade. I would encourage anyone with information about illegal tobacco sellers to take a note of their registration number and report them to Trading Standards or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”