Welsh Trading Standards teams have been working with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) as part of ‘Operation CeCe’, a national Trading Standards initiative, targeting illegal tobacco products.
Recent raids carried out across Wales saw not only the confiscation of illegal cigarettes but also the confiscation of pouches of illegal hand-rolling tobacco. The combined value of the illegal cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco pouches were estimated at over £280,000. Since January 2021, Trading Standards and HMRC have made seizures in 12 council areas across Wales. They have gathered information on criminal tobacco gangs and are planning more raids across Wales in the next few months.
Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Lynne Neagle, has stated that ‘Operation CeCe’ has led to the biggest crackdown on illegal tobacco in Wales since devolution. She has stated that, "We support the ongoing work of HMRC and Trading Standards Wales. We will shortly be launching an illegal tobacco campaign to raise public awareness and encourage reporting of illegal tobacco”.
Further, the Chair of Trading Standards Wales, Helen Picton, has stated that, "The trade in illegal tobacco creates a cheap source for tobacco for children and young people. It also undermines all of the good work being done to stop people smoking and the illegal tobacco trade more often than not has strong links to criminal activity."
Separately, the county of Suffolk, England, also sees the prevalence of illegal cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. Recently, some of the illegal products have been found under a manhole cover at the rear of a shop. They were discovered by a tobacco detection dog during a crackdown on shops by Suffolk Trading Standards in the towns of Lowestoft and Beccles. More than 12,000 illegal cigarettes and 18.45kg of rolling tobacco were seized.
Suffolk Trading Standards stated that some of the cigarettes were, "likely to contain harmful substances and may not self-extinguish". It has been stated that some counterfeit tobacco products have been found to contain rat faeces, sawdust, lead, arsenic and even dust and debris swept up from floors where the products are produced.
The raids were carried out after the shops sold the items to covert officers. Suffolk Trading Standards stated that the products would be, "fully assessed as part of the investigation to determine the exact offences that have been committed.”
They further stated that some were suspected of being counterfeits of popular brands. The cigarettes are suspected to have been illegally imported into the UK without duty being paid and do not meet legal packaging and labelling requirements. Trading Standards have said that people can identify illegal cigarettes by looking for packaging that is more colourful than usual and with a lack of health warnings present. They also stated that the text on the packet may not be in English, the prices would be cheap and the brands would be unknown. Unlawful tobacco products are sold at around half the price of legal products.
Moreover, earlier this year, thousands of contraband cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco were found hidden in a hole in a wall. The concealed hole was sniffed by a tobacco detection dog outside a shop in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. The hole, which was reached from the outside, was discovered as police and Trading Standards officers searched two stores in the city centre. They found a total of 15,000 illegal cigarettes and 2kg of illicit hand-rolling tobacco worth £8,500. The council confirmed that the goods were a mixture of counterfeit and smuggled tobacco.
The raids are part of an ongoing operation by National Trading Standards to tackle illegal tobacco. The ongoing operation consists of shops being searched with the assistance of sniffer dogs, in order to find concealments of tobacco and cigarettes. In one shop in the Derbyshire region, products had been concealed in boxes made to look like boxes for speakers. These empty boxes were used to transport the illicit products onto the premises and then displayed within the shop. In other shops in the area, concealments were discovered in walls, behind shelving and in hidden drawers.
If your company and the products that you sell are brought into question and become the subject of a Trading Standards investigation then our specialist Trading Standards lawyers at Stephensons are able to assist you. We can assist you with a number of matters, including product misdescription/labelling, distance selling, age restricted sales, as well as trademark infringements and counterfeiting offences. Our specialist lawyers have experience in advising and defending businesses and individuals who are in the process of being investigated by Trading Standards and they are able to provide representation at an interview-under-caution and at court. For more information, please call our specialist lawyers on 0161 696 6250.
National Trading Standards