Raids on two convenience stores in Worthing and Bognor Regis have led to West Sussex County Council’s trading standards officers seizing more than £4,500 of potentially illegal cigarettes and tobacco.
One Worthing shopkeeper was caught after unknowingly selling a packet of foreign labelled cigarettes to an undercover trading standards officer.
Officers returned to the shop to find 37 packets of counterfeit cigarettes and 29 pouches of tobacco. Sniffer dogs tracked down the goods, which had been hidden at the bottom of the cigarette gantry accessed by a remote controlled mechanism.
In Bognor Regis, premises were inspected and 24 packets of foreign labelled and potentially counterfeit and unsafe cigarettes were found in the pockets of a male employee’s coat.
Sniffer dogs Yoyo, Phoebe and Scamp then sniffed out tobacco hidden inside a car parked at the premises.
Officers forced entry after the owner failed to unlock the vehicle.
They found 362 packets of cigarettes and 29 pouches of tobacco, which were foreign labelled and potentially counterfeit, with a street value of almost £3800.
The vehicle, which belonged to a suspect currently under investigation, was then seized.
Both raids took place on September 24 and criminal investigations are on-going.
Richard Sargeant, Team Manager for Trading Standards, said: “Cheap, illicit tobacco can be attractive to those on low incomes, including young people, who are amongst the priority groups we are particularly keen to support to not start, or to give up smoking.
“Unsafe cigarettes that do not self-extinguish are dangerous and have in the past led to house fires.
“We are grateful to consumers and local businesses who have supplied valuable information and we are committed to tackling this illegal trade.”
David Barling, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Residents Services with responsibility for Trading Standards, said: “Catching and prosecuting offenders sends out a clear, no nonsense message to others trying to sell cheap, illicit tobacco.
“Fake and illegally imported tobacco can put people's health at risk and harm legitimate traders. We are committed to removing this trade from the marketplace and will take full and forceful action to do so.”
If you have any information about illegal tobacco sales please let Trading Standards know by calling the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or by reporting details online at www.westsussex.gov.uk/TSreport.