Partnership work targeting illicit tobacco traders

Friday 20 December

Operation Kanni, carried out over the past week, was a multiagency operation with Trading Standards officers, West Yorkshire Police from Bradford West, Bradford Council Licencing, British Gas Revenue Protection and Wagtail UK, specialist tobacco detection dogs.

 

The operation was aimed at targeting businesses based in Bradford and Calderdale that are supplying cheap and illicit tobacco products in order to crack down on the supply in West Yorkshire.

 

10 shops were visited as part of this operation where more than 24,000 illegal cigarettes and 12kg of hand rolling tobacco was seized. The tobacco products were found hidden in various locations in the shops including inside a microwave, concealed in tubs and suitcases and even inside the housing of a domestic fridge. Businesses go to extreme lengths to hide their illegal tobacco but with experienced officers and with the help of the tobacco detection dogs, we were able to find the illicit goods.

 

The illicit tobacco is suspected to be a combination of counterfeit items and non-duty paid. The street value of the apprehended tobacco is almost £15,000.

 

The sale of illicit tobacco is often linked to other criminality and officers are finding that these businesses are also abstracting electricity. A multi-agency approach is used to try and uncover as much criminality as possible to try and discourage such trading. British Gas Revenue Protection also attended these premises and found issues with 4 shops in Bradford. Abstracting electricity is extremely dangerous and can cause risk of electrocution and a serious risk of sparking a fire or even causing an explosion. It can be a huge risk for neighbouring properties as well. Where abstractions were found, the electric was disconnected by Revenue Protection officers.

The inspections were part of The Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Programme that is funded by the five Public Health authorities in West Yorkshire. This is helping people to stop tobacco use for good by educating the public and by investigating traders who supply cheap and illicit tobacco. The programme utilises marketing campaigns and multi-agency enforcement to tackle the problems of the illicit trade.

 

To date the programme has taken more than 5 million illegal cigarettes and over 1 tonne of illegal hand rolling tobacco off the streets. With more inspections planned in West Yorkshire over the coming weeks these figures are likely to increase.

 

Illegal cigarettes and tobacco are usually sold at a fraction of the price in a range of locations such as pubs, clubs, shops, private houses and even by street hawkers.  Illegal tobacco undermines the age and price restrictions placed on tobacco and also encourages people to continue smoking. It is also linked to organised crime and contributes to an underground economy worth billions of pounds. Victims of human trafficking are often being forced to sell these illegal products in order to pay off debts or fearing harm to themselves or their families.

 

Councillor Sue Duffy, Deputy Chair of the West Yorkshire Joint Services Committee which oversees the work of Trading Standards said, “Although a lot has been achieved, illegal tobacco is still a problem. While all smoking kills, illegal tobacco is a danger to health, particularly to young people, as it is sold at pocket money prices, making it easy for children to start. It also encourages other crimes in our communities.”

 

David Lodge, Head of West Yorkshire Trading Standards said, “The illegal sale of tobacco in communities enables and encourages young children to buy it cheaply.  It is really great that so many partners are working to tackle traders that break the law.  I would like to thank members of the public for reporting illegal sales and encourage everyone to continue doing so to reduce the harm caused by tobacco in our communities. I would encourage the public to continue reporting this type of activity to the Illegal Tobacco Hotline on 0300 999 0000.”