A Trading Standards crackdown on illegal tobacco has found 5,000 illegal cigarettes concealed in a shop toilet.
As part of a national project funded by National Trading Standards and the HMRC, officers conducted quick fire unannounced inspections at retailers across Merton, Richmond and Wandsworth.
A specialist sniffer dog was used to hunt out illegal tobacco that can be deliberately hidden to avoid detection when inspections are carried out by enforcement officers.
In one Merton premises, ‘YoYo’ the canine crimefighter, began a search that took him to a staff toilet at the rear of the shop.
Once there YoYo indicated a detection behind a mirror attached to wall.
When officers checked, the mirror pivoted open revealing a large cavity. Here hundreds of packets of illegal cigarettes had been stashed.
The stock was seized immediately. If sold, it would be worth an estimated £2,000.
Across three days a total of 32 spot checks were made to a variety of retailers, including convenience stores, off licences and delicatessens. Goods were seized or handed over voluntarily in eight premises.
The aim was to disrupt the sale of illegal tobacco, which is tobacco that has been smuggled, counterfeited or is not intended for sale in the UK, usually indicated by non-English health warnings.
The nature of illegal tobacco means a shop selling it has an unfair advantage over competitors who are not, since it can purchase illegal stock far more cheaply.
Furthermore, illegal tobacco sold at a fraction of the price to consumers undermines smoking policy which seeks to make the price of tobacco a barrier to starting, especially for young people, and incentivise smokers trying to quit.
Some counterfeit tobacco has even been found to contain a host of nasty ingredients as it is not manufactured in the same sterile environment nor subject to the same restrictions as legitimate product.
Councillor Brenda Fraser, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Skills said: “Illegal tobacco is a blight on our community for many reasons: the price makes smoking more attractive to young people, the products can often be even more harmful than regular tobacco, and they avoid tax, thereby denying our public services the funding they need.”
“My heartfelt thanks go to our shared Trading Standards team – including YoYo the dog – for everything they do to keep the borough safe. Our local traders should know that there is never a safe time to be selling illegal smuggled goods, as our team are always on the lookout.”
Anyone with information on the sale of illegal tobacco can report it anonymously to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06