Raids find illegal tobacco and alcohol
Trading standards seized more than £15,000 of illegal tobacco and counterfeit vodka during raids carried out in a Black Country borough.
More than 150,000 illegal cigarettes and packets of rolling tobacco, and four bottles of vodka, were confiscated in the operations held across Sandwell.
Sandwell Council's leader Steve Eling warned shop owners risk losing their license if caught out.
Meanwhile Bob Charnley, trading standards and licensing manager at Sandwell, warned illegal tobacco sales encourages children and young adults to smoke.
A sniffer dog was used during the operations held in Rowley Regis and West Bromwich.
Concealed stashes of illegal tobacco were found hidden inside the four shops - with hiding places including behind a fuse box, a false wall and in crisp boxes.
The raids were carried out in a joint intelligence-led operation between Sandwell trading standards and West Midlands Police as part of the annual Safer 6 campaign which takes place each year in Sandwell aimed at improving the borough.
The shops are now being investigated by trading standards and face criminal prosecution which could result in an unlimited fine and 10 years imprisonment.
Bob Charnley, Sandwell trading standards and licensing manager, said: “People who deal in illegal tobacco are more likely to encourage others, especially children and young adults, to smoke.
"All tobacco is harmful but the illegal tobacco market and in particular the availability of cheap cigarettes makes it harder for smokers to quit.
"Our trading standards officers are working hard to keep these illegal products off the streets and are cracking down on the businesses and individuals that flout the law."
Councillor Eling, who inspected the goods, said: "The detection dogs can find tobacco and cigarettes even if it is hidden in the most unlikely places. Offenders need to know they will face consequences if they choose to deal in these illegal products.
“Retailers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their approach, adapting their methods in order to avoid detection but our message is, with the use of tobacco sniffer dogs, you may hide it, but we will find it.”
Councillor Eling added: “Seizing illegal products is only one of the tools we use. Officers use a range of interventions ranging from penalties to prosecutions to encourage compliance and maximise deterrent.
“In addition, when illicit tobacco is found on licensed premises, traders also risk losing their licence to sell alcohol.”
It’s estimated illegal tobacco costs taxpayers about £2 billion per year in lost revenue and is known to fund organised crime networks and criminal gang activity.
To contact Trading Standards, call the fake Confidential Fakes Hotline on 03003032636 or visit sandwell.gov.uk/tradingstandards