Sniffing out illegal tobacco as roadshow comes to Banbury

Sniffer dog Phoebe with the illegal tobacco roadshow van that has Yoyo on the back. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council
Sniffer dog Phoebe with the illegal tobacco roadshow van that has Yoyo on the back. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

Sniffer dogs will be in Banbury today (Monday, October 23) as Trading Standards takes a roadshow around the county in a bid to tackle illegal tobacco sales.

Trading Standards officers from Oxfordshire County Council and their sniffer dogs will take to the streets to ask for the public’s help and to crackdown on this criminal activity.

Sniffer dog Phoebe. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

Sniffer dog Phoebe. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

They also aim to educate the public about how to spot illegal tobacco: what the dangers are, and how to report sales.

The roadshow starts outside Debenhams in Banbury town centre from 10am to 3.30pm and will go around the county.

Trading Standards operations manager Jodi Kerman said: “This is one of our top priorities for action, not only because smoking remains one of the UK’s biggest causes of premature death but we also know that the availability of cheap, illegal tobacco helps recruit the next generation of smokers and undermines our initiatives to help adults quit smoking.”

Sniffer dogs Scamp, Phoebe and Yoyo are all ex-rescue and have found millions of pounds-worth of illegal cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco in locations across the UK.

Yoyo checking out a suspicious car boot. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

Yoyo checking out a suspicious car boot. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

The talented mutts are needed as stashes are often hidden behind fake walls or in unusual locations secured by electro-magnets and operated by remote control devices.

Illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to start smoking, as it is sold at cheap prices, and it also makes communities more attractive to criminals, who may have links to organised crime groups.

Reports suggest that illegal tobacco is also an important part of organised crime.

Far from being a victimless crime, this illicit trade is connected to drug trafficking, money laundering, firearms and other crimes that threaten communities and endanger lives.

County council deputy leader Judith Heathcoat said: “All tobacco is harmful, but illegal tobacco poses an additional threat to our children and communities, because it is sold at pocket money prices by criminals who are not interested in asking for proof of age.

"There is a lot of work being done across the county to tackle illegal tobacco but we need the public support to help us.

"Please tell us about where illegal tobacco is being sold, either in person at our mobile illegal tobacco unit, go online or via our hotline."

In the South East, illegal tobacco had a street value of £37m and equivalent retail value of approximately £76m in 2010 - Tradings Standards believes this share has now increased substantially.

Anyone wishing to report the selling of illegal tobacco can do so anonymously online to Trading Standards at www.stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk or call the Illegal Tobacco Hotline on 0300 999 6 999.