A staggering total of more than 90,000 illegal cigarettes were seized in raids in County Durham during the 2017/18 financial year.

94,040 cigarettes were impounded in operations spearheaded by Durham County Council’s Consumer Protection Team, in partnership with Durham Constabulary and other agencies.

In addition to the cigarettes, 41.8 kilogrammes of rolling tobacco were seized. More than £4,000 pounds were confiscated from seven homes and businesses, under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

In 2017/18, the Consumer Protection Team dealt with 105 complaints relating to illicit tobacco, 49 of which were made thanks to the Keep It Out campaign, which ran in November and December.

Keep It Out aimed to make consumers and businesses aware of the issues around illegal tobacco.

One shop, Westlea Mini Market in Seaham, was shut down for two months in January for repeatedly selling illicit tobacco. The shop has since surrendered its premises licence.

The Consumer Protection Team also dealt with 68 complaints concerning sales of alcohol to minors.

The team used 89 test purchases to check if retailers were selling goods illegally. 68 of these test purchases were linked to sales of alcohol to underage people.

Failed test purchases usually result in a fixed penalty notice fine and a requirement to undergo training. Subsequent failures can lead to a review of premises licences.

During 2017/18, 23 retailers took part in the Do You Pass training course, which gives guidance on the sale of age-restricted products. In total, 433 County Durham retailers have now taken this course.

In the coming financial year, the team are planning to hold a number of events to raise awareness of the harm that illicit tobacco can cause.

In 2012/13, it was estimated that 9% of the cigarettes sold in the UK came from illegal sources. Illicit cigarettes may be counterfeits of famous brands or genuine famous-brand cigarettes that have been smuggled into the country, thereby dodging taxation.

Durham County Council’s cabinet member for environment, health and consumer protection, Cllr Brian Stephens, said, “It’s really pleasing that our team has continued its excellent work in 2017/18 with so much illicit tobacco and the illegal money linked to it taken off our streets.”

“Obtaining its first closure against a premises that was engaging in criminal activity was a notable success and it’s fantastic that more than 400 retailers have now been given the training on age-related products.”

“We remain committed to working with our partners to tackle the damage to health and criminality associated with the illegal supply and misuse of tobacco and alcohol within County Durham.”

(Featured image courtesy of kenji arjan, from Flickr Creative Commons)

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