TRADING Standards watchdogs have thanked the public for information which led to the seizure of a major illegal tobacco haul.
Acting on tip-offs, Wigan Council officers carried out four raids on retail premises in Hindley, Wigan and Ashton.
Knowing the lengths to which illicit traders go in order to hide their stash of illegal tobacco, specially trained sniffer dogs were brought in to help detect the whereabouts of the contraband.
Officers from Greater Manchester Police also assisted in some of the raids.
Altogether, more than 15,000 cigarettes and 17kg of tobacco were seized.
Most of the products were falsely made to appear to be duty free with no UK labelling, with some of the products being counterfeit.
Coun Kevin Anderson, cabinet champion for communities and the environment, said: “The sale of counterfeit goods is a serious criminal offence and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.
“Counterfeit cigarettes regularly contain much higher levels of nicotine than genuine brands, and produce more harmful carbon monoxide.
“They could also incorporate a seriously unhealthy mix of cancer-causing chemicals including arsenic, cadmium, benzene and formaldehyde – far greater than genuine cigarettes.
“Whilst the urge to buy so-called bargains ‘under the counter’ may prove irresistible, people need to consider the bigger picture.
“Counterfeit tobacco products are even more harmful than the real thing, and the risk people take in buying and using substandard goods can be considerable.
“This kind of criminal activity undermines local communities as law abiding shops that pay their taxes simply cannot compete.”
Julie Middlehurst, Wigan Council’s Trading Standards Manager, added: “Please don’t turn a blind eye to this issue.
“It isn’t a victimless crime. Children and young people could be getting hold of these products and potentially causing untold long term damage to their health. We are determined to clamp down on those people who deal in duty free or counterfeit cigarettes.
“We have spoken to many young people aged 14 to 17 who smoke and they have admitted to buying cigarettes from illegitimate sources.
“We are grateful to those people who come forward with information because without their help, ridding our neighbourhoods of these illicit and dangerous goods would be all the more difficult.”
Anyone who wishes to contact Trading Standards in confidence can ring 08454 040506 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also ring Crimestoppers 0800 555111.