The price of a packet of cigarettes or rolling tobacco is notoriously high these days and so it is probably quite tempting for most smokers to reach for their wallets when offered discounted products.
But these are invariably counterfeit and untaxed and not only did they deprive the government of £1.86 billion in revenue in 2010-11 but their sellers often target children and young people.
Cheap illegal tobacco products conflict with the government’s national strategy to limit demand by keeping the price of tobacco high and make it harder for people to quit and remain smoke free.
Now Nottinghamsire Council has set up a task force to combat the problem.
It has invested £91,000 of its public health money to fund two trading standards officers and pay for investigations focusing on reducing supply and use locally.
Last month a Sutton shopkeeper received a fine of £900 and was ordered to pay costs amounting to £450 along with a £45 victim surcharge for being in possession of illicit cigarettes.
Nottinghamshire County Council’s trading standards officers seized a total of 2,963 packets of foreign labelled cigarettes without the required health warnings during two raids of Bierdronka Off Licence, Outram Street.
The shops’ owner, Adam Barzani (38), was proved to be guilty in his absence for two offences against the Consumer Protection Act 1987 at Mansfield Magistrates Court.
Barzani’s prosecution was a result of the team’s first operations, which involved raiding nine shops and two houses in the county, including ones in Sutton and Mansfield, and uncovered around 90,000 illegal cigarettes and 20kg of illegal tobacco with an estimated street value of £40,000.
Coun Glynn Gilfoyle, chairman of Nottinghamshire County Council’s Community Safety Committee, said: “The national market for illegal tobacco has nationally halved in the last decade with nine per cent of cigarettes being found illegal in 2012-13 compared to 21 per cent in 2000-01.
“Tackling the sale of illegal tobacco has been priority for the council and we have set up a dedicated team to focus our efforts on this persistent problem.
“The council receives a great deal of information from local people on shops and individuals suspected of selling illicit tobacco products which helps us to target our enforcement work.
“And illegal tobacco has strong links with organised crime so we will come down hard on those caught selling these goods.”
Anyone with information about people selling counterfeit tobacco and cigarettes in their area should call Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08454 04 05 06.
People can also ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org.uk.