SELLERS of illegal tobacco products in Wigan borough have been issued with a stern warning that they face a fight to keep up their trade.
More than 145,000 illicit cigarettes have been seized by Trading Standards officials in the last two years, new council figures reveal.
And local authority bosses have vowed to keep up their efforts to stub out the unlawful activity, which has been found to be based at shops, pubs and private residences.
Wigan Council Trading Standards manager Julie Middlehurst said: “There are a number of reasons why this is really important for us to tackle illegal tobacco, primarily because it is a completely unregulated source.
“This means it can be much more accessible to young people and obviously we work very hard to prevent young people from starting smoking and do a lot of work around underage sales of tobacco.
“From an economic perspective we want to support our legitimate businesses that are trying to do their best in a difficult climate.
“And there is no duty paid on illegal tobacco, that’s money that could be spent in our communities.”
In the last year, 70,000 cigarettes were seized, of which 7,800 were fakes, plus 40.5kg of illicit hand-rolling tobacco, the majority of which was fake.
Sanctions faced by the traders include fines, loss of licenses and custodial sentences for repeat offences. But some are drawn to the illegal activity because of the huge mark up profits that can be put on counterfeit goods.
Ms Middlehurst added: “We do encourage people to come forward and report any suspicious activity.
“People may think its a victimless crime but we have seen that children are buying these cigarettes.
“It’s very important we tackle this illegal supply and we want to discourage people from smoking full stop.”