London seizures of illegal tobacco indicate widespread problem

London Trading Standards warns of widespread retail supply of illegal tobacco across the capital and asks the public and businesses for information about sellers.

Enforcement by Trading Standards teams in the London Boroughs of Barnet, Croydon, Hammersmith & Fulham and Hillingdon shows the extent of the problem at retail level across London. A single day visiting shops with tobacco detection dogs in these four boroughs resulted in the seizure of:

  • Illegal tobacco products from 19 retailers

    Detection dog Rico with illegal tobacco find

  • 104,680 cigarettes (5,234 packs)
  • Nearly 10kg of hand-rolling tobacco
  • Nearly 50kg of other illegal tobacco products (non-duty paid and un-notified shisha tobacco, paan and oral tobacco)

This operation followed the London ‘Stamp IT Out!’ action week in September.

The value of duty and VAT payable on these goods, which would have been evaded had they been sold, is approximately £55,000.

The supply of cheap illegal tobacco:

  • Undermines the health aims of the government’s tobacco control plan – surveys of smokers have shown that they are likely to smoke more when it is available and also less likely to quit
  • Contributes to house fires – counterfeit and many foreign cigarettes continue burning even when they are not actively smoked, unlike UK / EU cigarettes which are designed to self-extinguish
  • Harms honest businesses – by creating unfair competition
  • Causes a hole in public finances – HMRC estimate the unpaid duty and VAT on cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco to have been £1.9 billion in 2018/19.

Steve Playle, London Trading Standards spokesperson, said:

“To maximise our effectiveness, we need good information and would encourage anyone who knows of suppliers of cheap foreign market or duty-free tobacco products to report it.

“Enforcement at retail level complements the work done by HMRC to stop the criminal gangs that distribute illegal tobacco. It reduces the availability of cheap cigarettes to smokers and also dampens demand for it, as fewer retailers will buy it to supply from their shops.

“If small Trading Standards teams are to be enabled to effectively enforce tobacco control legislation a mechanism needs to be found to fund this work adequately. At the moment ever decreasing funding is restricting our work to the detriment of everyone except the criminals.”

To report illegal tobacco anonymously use the London Trading Standards reporting tool or contact the Citizens’ Advice Consumer Helpline on freephone 0808 233 1133.