A JOINT operation has seen 90,000 illegal cigarettes and 26.5kgs of hand rolling tobacco seized this week.

The swoop was made on four premises by West Yorkshire Trading Standards, West Yorkshire Police from Heckmondwike, Dewsbury and Huddersfield neighbourhood policing teams, and Kirklees Council Licensing team. They were targeting dealers of cheap and illicit tobacco.

If genuine, the value of the cigarettes seized would be over £55,000 with a loss of duty to the tax payer of almost £35,000. A large quantity of cash was also seized by the police, believed to be the proceeds of crime from the sales of illicit tobacco.

Four premises were visited in which illegal practices were taking place. The premises were identified from intelligence and complaints passed to West Yorkshire Trading Standards by members of the public and partner agencies.

Illicit tobacco was hidden in rooms above the shop and delivered in to the shop via a chute. When customers came into in to the shop to buy cheap tobacco, either a mobile phone or radio would be used to communicate with a staff member upstairs who would then pass the requested product through the chute in to the shop. Some of the tobacco products were counterfeit, did not bear the statutory health warnings, were not in the standardised packaging and were non duty paid, depriving vital public services of much needed resources.

The Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Programme, funded by the five Public Health departments, is helping people to stop tobacco use for good by educating the public and by investigating traders who supply cheap and illicit tobacco. The initiative uses multi-agency enforcement and community marketing campaigns to tackle the problems of the illicit trade.

To date the programme has taken nearly seven million illicit cigarettes and two and half tonnes of illicit hand rolling tobacco off the streets of West Yorkshire. With more inspections planned in the coming weeks, these figures are set to increase. Training sessions with thousands of members of the public and hundreds of front line professionals have been delivered to raise awareness about the dangers and wider criminality associated with the supply of illicit tobacco.

Linda Davis, West Yorkshire Trading Standards Manager said, “The supply of cheap and illicit tobacco is 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. We are committed to the fight against cheap and illicit tobacco. By taking tough action and working with the police, this operation has taken a significant amount of illicit tobacco off the streets.”

Councillor Pauleen Grahame, Chair of the West Yorkshire Joint Services Governance and Audit Sub-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 partners are working to tackle traders that break the law. I would like to thank all the partners and 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.”