A multi-agency clampdown on the trade in illegal tobacco has taken place in Cumbria this week, with officers getting the leap on illegal traders in a series of house visits in Workington, Whitehaven, Frizington and Carlisle on 29 February.
Trading Standards officers supported by HM Revenue and Customs, the North West Illicit tobacco team and Cumbria Police staged the operation, which involved visiting residential addresses to search for counterfeit or non duty paid tobacco, incorrectly labelled cigarettes and illegal hand rolling tobacco.
Officers were acting on tip-off information received through the Crimestoppers phone number. Customs Officers removed 18kg of hand-rolling tobacco and 5,900 non duty paid cigarettes, while Trading Standards officers recovered 4,160 counterfeit cigarettes.
Angela Jones, Cumbria Trading Standards Manager said:
"This operation has demonstrated that agencies will work together to clampdown on illegal tobacco. Anyone thinking of engaging in this type of illegal activity in Cumbria should take note: we will act on information about the supply of illegal tobacco and you could be prosecuted."
Mike O'Grady, HM Revenue & Customs Assistant Director for criminal investigation, said:
"Those involved in the illicit tobacco trade are not providing a public service; it is organised criminality, which has a devastating impact on legitimate retailers having to compete against the sale of cheap smuggled and counterfeit products. HMRC teams operate across the North West to disrupt this illicit trade and will continue to work closely with other agencies to tackle tobacco smuggling at street level and to protect legitimate businesses."
Trading Standards supports the Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smokefree North West) 'Illegal Tobacco - Keep It Out' campaign which urges people to contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 if they know of anyone selling illegal tobacco.
Su Sear, Public Health Partnership Specialist for NHS Cumbria, said:
"Every year over 900 people in Cumbria die of smoking related illnesses. We need to work together in our communities to stop illegal cigarettes being sold to children so that they don't become one of these terrible statistics in the future"
Cllr Gary Strong, Cumbria County Council's Cabinet Member responsible for community safety, said:
"In some of our neighbourhoods the sale of illegal cigarettes is still seen as being acceptable and a victimless crime. Illegal tobacco brings increased harm into some of our most deprived areas and makes it easier for young people to start smoking. I would urge people to help take action against dealers in our communities. If you know of anyone selling illegal tobacco, please contact Crimestoppers and help keep it out."
A survey* of over 4,000 people across the North of England first carried out in 2009 and repeated in 2011 found that there has been a major dent in the illegal tobacco market in Cumbria.
The volume of illegal tobacco bought has gone down by 11% in the North West. This equates to nearly 60 million fewer illegal cigarettes and over £ 13m less duty and VAT evasion in the region.
The survey also found that the total amount of all tobacco consumed has gone down by 15% in the North West.
In Cumbria the number of people that are likely to report sellers if they are selling to children has increased.
The number of non smokers that have come across illegal tobacco has fallen from 33% in 2009 to 25% in 2011.
Likelihood to report sellers if selling to children has increased from 76% in 2009 amongst non-smokers and smokers to 84%, including those who admit to buying illegal tobacco.
Likelihood to report sellers (to anyone) has also risen from 22% in 2009 to more than a quarter (33%) in 2011.
The number of people that are very uncomfortable with illegal tobacco has increased from 42% to more than half (60%).
Awareness of illegal tobacco has increased from 52% to 68% in 2011.
* The North of England Tackling Illegal Tobacco for Better Health Programme has resulted in less illegal tobacco being bought and sold on estates, fewer people turning a blind eye and more action aimed at bringing sellers to justice. The North of England Study 2011 analysed the attitudes and buying patterns of 4111 people across the North of England. The programme was a world first when it was launched in 2009 to bring together the work of Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smokefree North West), FRESH Smoke Free North East, the NHS, councils, HMRC and police to tackle the demand and supply of smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes across the North of England.
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