Around £1,500 worth of illegal tobacco was found in a raid on a Banbury shop as sniffer dogs came to the town to raise awareness yesterday (Monday, October 23).
Trading Standards officers from Oxfordshire County Council and sniffer dogs from the Illegal Tobacco Crime Unit set up stall outside Debenhams to ask for the public’s help to crackdown on this criminal activity.
In total, nine pieces of intelligence were gained from members of the public from the roadshow after Trading Standards searched a shop in the town in the morning, finding hundreds of packets of suspected illegal cigarettes.
Sniffer dog Yoyo set about trying to find any contraband and found it in a compartment - his handler Stuart Phillips estimated it was worth between £1,500 and £2,000 and disrupted a days’ worth of sales.
“That would have been sold at pocket money prices and if you have people who want to give up smoking because of the price, but if that stuff is being sold for £2.50, there’s no incentive to quit really as it’s so cheap,” he said.
“So that’s a good quantity of illegal cigarettes that will not be available to the public.”
The roadshow in Banbury was the first one the county council has done in Oxfordshire, but Stuart has traveled the length and breadth of the country with his dogs, for both educational and enforcement purposes.
Trading Standards operations manager Jodi Kerman said enforcement alone will not stop illegal tobacco sales, the community is needed to join the fight and to work with the authorities.
“Illegal tobacco is very easy to get hold of and it’s in every community and that’s why we wanted to tackle it,” he said.
“It’s organised crime in our local community with local people coming into contact with it, and we’re particularly concerned with young people buying it.
“Three hundred young people a day start smoking and they are coming into contact with organised criminals.
“It’s affordable to young people and it keeps those smokes who are close to quitting but don’t because it’s so cheap.”
Members of the public were clearly drawn to the spaniel sniffer dogs Stuart brought with him, and Jodi hoped the event will be replicated.
Smokefreelife Oxfordshire, a free course to help smokers quit, were also there to give smokers advise on how to stop as ‘the two campaigns go hand in hand’, Mr Kerman said.
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.