A MAJOR operation was held in Bradford in a bid to crackdown on suppliers of illegal tobacco.

Police and officers from West Yorkshire Trading Standards (WYTS) were out in force last week. Bradford Council's Licensing Team, British Gas Revenue Protection and tobacco detection dogs from Wagtail UK were also in attendance.

A WYTS spokesperson said: "Over 60,000 illegal cigarettes and 5kg of illicit hand rolling tobacco were seized, with officers also finding suspected non-duty paid and counterfeit alcohol on some premises.

"If genuine, the market value of the cigarettes seized would be around £37,000.

"One of the shops was found to be illegally bypassing the electric meter and abstracting electricity – not only an illegal practice but an extremely dangerous tactic, with potential for serious injury, burns or even death for those carrying out that abstraction.

"This leaves the premises in an unsafe condition and can also become a major safety and fire risk, not just for those premises but also for neighbouring properties.  As a result, the electricity supply to this premises was terminated by Northern Powergrid.

"Prescription drugs, not labelled in English were also found on sale at one of the premises, and a referral to the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency was made as a result.

"The operation was part of a wider plan to crack down on criminality in Bradford, targeting hot spot areas and illegal business activities identified from intelligence and complaints received by West Yorkshire Trading Standards from members of the public.

"Illegal cigarettes and tobacco are 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."

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.

To date the programme has taken more than five million illegal cigarettes and over one 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.

Councillor Sue Duffy, Deputy Chair of the West Yorkshire Joint Services Committee which oversees the work of 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.”

David Lodge, Head of West Yorkshire Trading Standards, added: “Illegal tobacco has many damaging effects on our local communities as well as causing poor health.

"It also been found to support other criminal activity including modern slavery and human trafficking. Illegal tobacco is far from a victimless crime. 

"I would encourage the public to continue reporting this type of activity to the Illegal Tobacco Hotline on 0300 999 0000 or via the keep it out campaign.”