Croydon Council is warning residents to beware of buying fake tobacco after trading standards officers and colleagues at HM Revenue and Customs seized around 175,000 illegal cigarettes worth over £100,000.
Officers working together on a national enforcement campaign visited a storage unit in Waddon last Wednesday, where specially-trained search dogs sniffed out the smuggled cigarettes, plus some hand-rolling tobacco.
The operation with specialist dog handlers was part of Operation CeCe, which involves joint working between trading standards officers and HM Revenue and Customs officers to tackle the threat of the illegal tobacco trade.
Most of the seized contraband was not duty-paid and some is suspected to be counterfeit. The tobacco will now be kept as evidence for the ongoing investigation.
Anyone prosecuted and convicted of being involved in selling or supplying illegal tobacco can face penalties including up to 10 years in prison and an unlimited fine.
Illegal tobacco supplied to shops is often kept away from the counter, and it is easier for young people to get hold of because it is generally cheaper than legal tobacco.
Shop customers can spot illegal cigarettes because the packets may not include the correct health warnings or are written in foreign languages.
Sarah Hayward, Croydon Council’s interim executive director for place, said: “The sale of illegal tobacco in our borough is no faceless crime; its greater availability poses a health risk to young people and its profits also fund other criminal activity.
“Our trading standards team work every day to protect Croydon residents, and this joint operation underlines why that work is so important. If you suspect that tobacco you bought may be on sale illegally, report it to Citizens’ Advice on 03454 040506.”