Trading Standards officers are facing an increasingly difficult challenge to disrupt the illegal cigarette and tobacco trade, which are either counterfeit and can therefore be dangerous or have been smuggled to avoid tax.
Efforts to hide them have also become more sophisticated, with concealments using electronic magnets controlled by a switch, hydraulic compartments in floors and cavity wall compartments all used by traders trying to avoid detection.
The cigarettes, along with the hand-rolling tobacco, were confiscated by officers during the 2018/2019 financial year and had an estimated street value of nearly £1.3 million.
They would have been worth in excess of £3.3 million if they had been genuine UK duty paid goods. The loss to the taxpayer was nearly £2 million.
All businesses caught with illegal cigarettes or tobacco are investigated by police, and many traders have been prosecuted.
In Staffordshire, more than 24,000 cigarettes with a retail value of £12,658 were seized over the last 12months. An additional 9.8kg of tobacco worth £2,947 was also seized.
Councillor Gill Heath, who oversees Trading Standards at Staffordshire County Council, said: “Selling illegal tobacco is a serious crime and offenders need to know that our trading standards teams will take action not only to seize and destroy illegal products but also to seek to close down premises and to confiscate assets made from committing these crimes.
“Our anti-counterfeiting operation over the last 12 months has been a real success. Not only have the team taken thousands of pounds of illegal stock off the streets but money from the proceeds of crime has also been used to combat crime.”
Experts say illegal products will be very cheap, often less than half the price of legitimate packets, they will often have foreign writing on them and are often, not in the required standardised packaging colour.
Councillor Heath said: “The illegal tobacco trade has strong links to other criminal activity including drug dealing, money laundering, people trafficking and even terrorism. Selling illegal tobacco is a crime and it’s important that communities support efforts to crack down on illegal cigarettes."