Dogs detect 'secret stashes' of illegal tobacco worth more than £31K
More than £31,000 worth of illegal tobacco has been seized from six shops across Devon and Somerset.
Trading Standards officers, supported by police, used specialist detection dogs to find the tobacco in a series of raids last month.
Some of the tobacco was found concealed beneath floor tiles and above ceiling panels. In one instance, the tobacco was hidden in a void which lowered from the ceiling by way of a hydraulic ram platform system, operated via a key fob.
Two of the retailers are in Plymouth, two in Taunton and two in Exeter and in total 80,320 cigarettes (4016 packets of 20) and 24.8kg of hand rolling tobacco (497 of 50g pouches) were seized.
A number of non-compliant Shisha and Vape products were also seized.
The raids were part of Operation CeCe, a larger national Trading Standards partnership with HM Revenue and Customs aimed at tackling illegal tobacco.
Alex Fry, operations manager for Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service said: "We use tobacco detection dogs as we are finding that criminals are using increasingly elaborate methods to hide illegal tobacco.
“We have found hidden stashes in bin stores, ovens, behind specially constructed hidden panels and hidden in ceilings above insulation tiles.
"But regardless of where it is hidden the dogs have the ability to sniff out even small quantities of tobacco that are hidden from view.
"Using the dogs also helps searches to be completed more quickly so more premises can be checked. We will continue to act on intelligence to target unscrupulous sellers making money from the illegal activity.”
Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Trading Standards, said: “The service uses detection dogs so for retailers who think they can get away with this illegal activity there really is nowhere to hide.
“And for those who think illegal tobacco is a victimless crime think again. We know that the availability of cheap, illegal tobacco at pocket money prices encourages young people to start smoking. We are also aware that the trade in illegal tobacco, which is often counterfeit, is used by organised crime groups to raise funds for their criminal activity.”
Investigations into those premises found selling the items are ongoing.
Anyone wishing to report the selling of illegal tobacco can report anonymously online to Trading Standards at www.swillegaltobacco.info/