The operation, which was funded by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) and supported by the Department of Health, saw 20 premises targeted in Tamworth, Rugeley, Burton and Newcastle. These included shops, pubs and private addresses.
In total, 118,080 illicit and counterfeit cigarettes were seized, in addition to 31.75kg illicit hand rolling tobacco. The intelligence-led operation tackled illicit tobacco supplies in nine regions of England, over six months, using specialist tobacco detection dogs.
Staffordshire County Council’s trading standards leader Gill Heath said, “This has been a highly successful, centrally funded operation, to reduce the amount of illicit tobacco in Staffordshire.
“We’d again like to remind people of the dangers it presents. Aside from the content being unregulated, cigarettes fail to extinguish themselves when left to burn, presenting a real danger to people. Illicit tobacco products are sold at cheap prices and won’t contain English and pictorial health warnings, which really undermines smoking cessation initiatives.
“While all tobacco is harmful, the illegal tobacco market and in particular the availability of cheap cigarettes make it harder for smokers to quit and remain smoke free. We’d urge anyone with information about illicit tobacco sales to call our Fight the Fakes hotline on 01785 330356.”
Leon Livermore, CTSI chief executive, said, “The illegal tobacco trade costs taxpayers about £2 billion per year in lost revenue and is known to fund organised crime networks and criminal gang activity.
“Meanwhile, about 80,000 people die from smoking related diseases each year, in England alone, costing the overstretched NHS an estimated £2 billion. Together we are winning the battle and figures show that the market share of illicit cigarettes has dropped from 21 per cent to 9 per cent in the last decade.
“Intelligence-led investigations like this keep illegal cigarettes and tobacco off the market and away from children and young people.”
Richard Las, deputy director of fraud and investigation service at HMRC, said, “HMRC works closely with other enforcement agencies to crack down on illicit tobacco in the UK.
“Seizing illicit product is only one of the tools used; the focus is on using a range of interventions, from penalties to prosecutions, to encourage compliance and maximise deterrent. Partnership working with trading standards is vital in order to share intelligence and collaborate on joint exercises such as Operation Henry to target those areas with the highest levels of illicit tobacco activity.”
Launched last year and supported by the Department of Health, Operation Henry was the first large-scale coordinated trading standards investigation of its kind to tackle the supply of illegal tobacco.
It resulted in the seizure of more than 2.5 million cigarettes worth £614,488 with concealed tobacco products found in walls, under floorboards and inside furniture.