Croydon Council trading standards and HM Revenue and Customs teamed up with specialist detection dogs to track down and seize illegal tobacco worth over £300,000 from a Croydon storage unit.
More than 216,000 illegal cigarettes and 350 kilograms of hand-rolling tobacco were uncovered when officers swooped a self-storage unit in the north of the borough in the joint operation with BWY Canine Ltd on Wednesday 1 December.
The crackdown was part of Operation CeCe, a national campaign which focuses on joint working between trading standards and HM Revenue and Customs.
The majority of the tobacco was non-duty paid and suspected to have been smuggled into the country. A proportion was believed to be counterfeits of popular brands, which are likely to contain harmful substances and may not self-extinguish.
The investigation remains ongoing and the seized products will now be fully assessed as part of the inquiry to determine the exact offences that have been committed.
Anyone who is 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.
Councillor Manju Shahul-Hameed, cabinet member for communities, safety and business recovery said
“Illegal tobacco is sold ‘under the counter’ away from the legitimate products, sold at markets or privately via online unofficial selling platforms. Illegal cigarettes often do not include correct health warnings and appear in colourful packaging as opposed to the legal standardised packaging which uses only one specific deep green colour.
“Far from being a victimless crime, illegal tobacco trading provides affordable access for children and young people, makes it harder for people to give up as the product is cheaper, and affects the trade of legitimate retailers. This also supports the organised criminal gangs who smuggle the tobacco in and sell it on which has deep links to modern-day slavery.
“I would like to say a big thank you to all those involved in this operation. The work you have undertaken has been fantastic and will benefit many of our residents.”
If you have information about the sale of illegal tobacco in Croydon please report it via the Citizens Advice Consumer Advice line on 0808 223 1133 or report on this website, in confidence, anonymously.