Last year, with Coronavirus restrictions in place throughout most of the 12 months and many people continuing to work at home, it was business as usual for Hull City Council’s Trading Standards team.
The pandemic has seen a spike in the numbers of people involved in selling illegal tobacco and cigarettes, whether smuggled, stolen or counterfeit. The council’s team and local partners, including Humberside Police, regularly use local and national intelligence to seek and seize illicit products.
In December alone, one intelligence-led operation resulted in the discovery of 18,000 packets of smuggled tobacco, worth around £216,000. The total amount seized in 2021 (January to December) was 70,7400 illegal cigarettes and 24,289 packs of tobacco. The illegal goods were worth a combined £468,320.
Chris Wilson, City Trading Standards Manager, said: “During the pandemic, the number of premises involved in the sale of illicit tobacco and cigarettes in Hull rose significantly. This may have been caused by an increase in consumer demand, with home working, limited household incomes and people being furloughed leading to people smoking more and seeking cheaper tobacco products.
“Our team had a number of successes over the year, including the operation in December. Evidence obtained during the investigation of this case showed the stock was intended to supply shops around the city; a clear indication of organised crime.
“We have also had successful enforcement actions against local retailers selling illegal cigarettes. Many of these rogue traders have resorted to hiding illegal stocks away from their shops, including storing it in a separate flat above the shop and feeding the goods through to the shop via a concealed chute. Intelligence provided by the public, allows us to take effective targeted action, using entry warrants issued by the Magistrate’s Court”.
Cllr Gwen Lunn, Portfolio Holder for Public Health and Protection, said: “Like many workers, our team carried on working hard, in jobs that couldn’t be done at home, through restrictions and lockdowns over the course of the pandemic.
“Some people misunderstand illegal tobacco as a victimless crime. This absolutely isn’t the case. It prevents people from giving up, makes tobacco accessible for children and young people and funds organised crime. It has no place in our communities.
“We can all help keep it out by anonymously reporting individuals or businesses which sell illegal products, by choosing not to buy these products and by making the decision to stop smoking. There is a wide range of free support available, to help you stop in a way that suits you”.
Throughout 2021, there were also 15 prosecutions for breaches of trademark and labelling, resulting in fines of £15,552. Two individuals received suspended prison sentences and three were given Community Punishment Orders. A total of 57 warning letters – the majority for cigarette or tobacco infringements – were also issued.
Work carried out in the year was supported by national grant funding from HM Revenues and Customs, which paid for the services of a tobacco detection dog and their handler.
Report illegal tobacco sale anonymously and instantly here: https://keep-it-out.co.uk/anonymous-reporting/
Get tailored support to stop smoking here: https://www.changegrowlive.org/smoke-free-hull/home