Operation Ce Ce sees successful seizures of illegal tobacco across London

Raids across London have seen almost 300,000 illegal cigarettes and 90kg of hand rolling tobacco seized in recent months.

London Trading Standards (LTS) has been leading ‘Operation CeCe’ to crack down on the illicit trade.

In the last four months officers have confiscated tobacco products with a market value of £226,800 – a street value of £108,000.

The impact of the illegal tobacco trade is far reaching. It is often part of wider criminality including drug smuggling, people trafficking and illegal alcohol production.

The availability of cheap tobacco significantly undermines the effect of higher taxation on efforts to reduce the number of people that smoke. 

Trading Standards manager, Cenred Elworthy, said: “We had a great success with a recent seizure in Croydon, which saw 175,000 cigarettes confiscated with a market value of £105,000 and a street value of £65,625. Officers also seized hand rolling tobacco with a market value of £1,794 and street value of £690.”

Operation CeCe is part of the wider strategy HMRC is undertaking to tackle this problem; from the targeting of organised crime groups that work internationally to produce and smuggle illegal tobacco products to local disruption activity including the seizure of products at local retail premises.

There is a focus on local disruption activity, working closely with tobacco detection dog teams and test purchasers to target those who supply these products.

Illegal products will be seized and removed from the supply chain; enforcement action will be taken where appropriate to do so.

In the most recent raid Barking and Dagenham Council’s Trading Standards team seized more than 12,000 illicit cigarettes from six businesses.

During the operation on October 8th, officers recovered Eastern European tobacco from three shops following intelligence and test purchasing.

There were 1,300 cigarettes recovered from premises A, 10,000 from premises B and 900 from premises C, equalling a street value of £5,185.

All of the cigarettes seized were duty avoided, not in plain packaging and not labelled with statutory health warnings.

Councillor Margaret Mullane, Cabinet Member for Enforcement and Community Safety who joined in the operation, said: “Operations like these not only ensure that businesses in the borough are operating on the right side of the law, but also protect the health of our residents.

“The operation was a huge success with thousands of illegal cigarettes taken off our streets. I would like to thank all officers involved.”

The operation was supported by BWY Canine, who provided six specialist sniffer dogs to help locate the illegal cigarettes and tobacco.

The three guilty premises were cautioned and questioned during the raid and will now face further investigation.

Wendy Martin, Director of National Trading Standards, said: “The trade in illegal tobacco harms local communities and affects honest businesses operating within the law.

“The National Trading Standards initiative in partnership with HRMC is playing a significant role in disrupting this illicit trade and is helping to take illegal tobacco products off the streets.” ​

It’s illegal to sell tobacco that’s:

Counterfeit      – Fake but made to look like the real thing: in standardised packaging or looks like it’s a non-duty paid product.

Non-duty paid – A genuine brand with foreign labelling in non-standardised packaging, brought from outside the UK and smuggled back in.

Other cigarettes and tobacco – Manufactured from the black market to look like genuine products.They’re not manufactured to comply with current UK legislation, so wouldn’t be sold law abiding retail premises.

Cigarettes must comply with the Reduced Ignition Propensity safety standards. This ensures that cigarettes self-extinguishes if not continuously smoked. Illegal tobacco may not adhere to these safety standards, making them extremely hazardous.

Cenred Elworthy, said: “Stubbing out the illegal tobacco trade also aims to keep London neighbourhoods crime free by safeguarding legitimate tobacco sales, preventing children from getting cigarettes at “pocket money prices” and becoming addicted to smoking, and preventing children from coming into contact with unknown and potentially undesirable individuals.”

Operation CeCe commenced in January 2021 and runs for a period of 15 months across England and Wales. 


  • £2 billion lost tax revenues annually
  • Public health impacted by lost tax revenues
  • Fire safety: many illegal cigarettes don’t self-extinguish
  • Packaging often has inadequate health warnings
  • The illicit trade undermines trust and lawful earnings

LTS is highlighting the online consumer crime reporting tool – a confidential, no reply service to raise concerns over inappropriate practices relating to all schemes. Report consumer crime – London Trading Standards

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