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World No Tobacco Day highlights illegal trade

FotorCreated

  

From hidden holes above light fittings to secret drawers and hollow doors - these are some of the concealed compartments that have been used to store illegal tobacco across the North East.

 

Concerted action against illegal tobacco dealers by enforcement teams during 2014 as part of the ongoing nationwide "Operation Henry" led to the seizure of over 65,000 cigarettes in the North East.

 

These images have been released in time for World No Tobacco Day (May 31) which this year is highlighting the problems of illegal tobacco in making it easier for children to smoke, bringing crime into communities and keeping smokers hooked.

 

The World Health Organisation which co-ordinates World No Tobacco Day is also highlighting how the tobacco industry has been involved in the smuggling of its own products, resulting in multinationals paying massive fines around the world. Both the tobacco industry and organised criminal groups are among those who profit from the illegal tobacco trade, leaving the public to pay the health and security costs.

 

Using sniffer dogs, trading standards teams joined up with Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria Constabularies, HMRC, the North East Trading Standards Association and Scambusters to target sales and gain intelligence about supply and distribution.

 

Out of 45 shops visited in the North East between April and September 2014, 12 were found to have tobacco hidden in store. In total teams seized over 65,000 sticks, 235kg of hand rolling tobacco, 1.8kg of raw tobacco and 5kg of shisha.

 

Nationwide, the biggest amount seized was non UK duty-paid cigarettes followed by foreign brands such as Jin Ling and hand rolling tobacco. The total value of the seized tobacco products was £753,499.

 

Howard Turton, Regional Enforcement Manager with Scambusters, said: "While the vast majority of shopkeepers are law abiding, it is a worry that some are finding ingenious ways of hiding the tobacco in concealed compartments. Sniffer dog activity is incredibly effective at finding it, wherever it is hidden.

 

"We would urge anyone with any knowledge about where illegal tobacco is being sold - whether it is a shop, pub or cigarette house – to pass on information to local trading standards or the HMRC hotline. It might stop your child or someone else's getting hooked on smoking."

 

Lisa Surtees, Acting Director of Fresh, said: "All smoking kills but illegal tobacco helps make it easier for children to buy tobacco and keeps people hooked on a habit addiction that kills over 5000 people in our region ever year."

 

The latest intelligence in the North East suggests the illegal tobacco market to be 9% of the total tobacco market compared to 15% in 2009, with less than one in five smokers buying illegal tobacco compared to one in four in 2009.Fresh helped found the national Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Partnership, working with local authorities, HMRC, police, trading standards and the NHS to reduce supply and demand.

 

Money for the Operation Henry activity came from the Department of Health and the activity was co-ordinated by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI). The councils taking part were Darlington, Durham, Gateshead, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland and South Tyneside.

 

Surveys in the North East have found the main sources where smokers buy illegal tobacco are private addresses, pubs and clubs and shops. Street hawkers, car boot sales and mobile food vans are other sources.

 

Anyone with information about illegal tobacco can contact local trading standards or the HMRC Customs Hotline on 0800 595 000.

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