WATCH: Sniffer dogs uncover hidden cache of illicit cigarettes in Portsmouth
TRADERS in dangerous smuggled tobacco have been warned they will be hunted down after thousands of cigarettes were found in a raid.
Video released by Portsmouth City Council’s trading standards shows sniffer dogs uncovering 7,100 illicit cigarettes hidden in a waste bin and an untaxed van at the back of Maya Delicatessen in Fratton Road.
Coffee granules had been poured along the door sills of the van in a failed bid to thwart the dogs’ detection skills.
Shocking test results revealed illegal and high levels of tar and nicotine – and nearly double the carbon monoxide usually found in cigarettes.
Now as the firm is fined thousands of pounds over the toxic cigarettes, HMRC and the council’s trading standards are warning they will chase the illegal trade out of the area.
Councillor Robert New, cabinet member for environment and community safety, said; ‘This punishment sends out a message that we don’t tolerate illegal tobacco sales in Portsmouth.
‘The supply of cheap, illicit tobacco undermines everything the council does to reduce the levels of smoking in the city, and tests show these cigarettes were completely unregulated. Thanks to the excellent work of our trading standards team it is now off the streets.’
An HMRC spokeswoman said it was chasing organised crime groups that smuggle illicit tobacco and warned it could make life difficult for traders caught selling them on.
She said: ‘Relentlessly disrupting criminal businesses is at the heart of HMRC’s strategy to clamp down on this illicit trade. Tobacco smugglers are constantly adapting to the huge downward pressure HMRC puts them under.’
In the past two years, more than 3.5bn illicit cigarettes and over 599 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco have been seized resulting in 848 prosecutions in the UK.
If caught, traders can have vehicles seized, be banned from selling tobacco for six months, stopped from having a Lotto machine and HMRC can object to shops’ renewing alcohol licences.
‘The proceeds from smuggling tobacco products are often used to fund other forms of serious and organised crime, such as smuggling of drugs and weapons, and human trafficking,’ the HMRC spokeswoman added.
Tobacco fraud cost the UK £2.1bn in 2014/15 but the trade has been halved since 2000.
Maya & Pati Ltd, registered in Hampshire Street, Portsmouth, was fined £7,000 by a judge at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court with £442 costs to pay.
Katarzyna Muszczynska, 37, also of Hampshire Street, pleaded guilty on behalf of the firm to one charge under the Trademarks Act and three charges under the Consumer Protection Act.
She admitted the same offences herself as a director of the firm.
District Judge Anne Arnold fined her £680 with £306 costs. All 7,100 potentially dangerous cigarettes found last December 17 will be destroyed.
They were produced for foreign markets and did not have required labels and warnings required in the UK.
HMRC, police and the council launched the raid after a number of tip-offs that cigarettes were being sold under the counter.
Dr Matt Smith, acting director of public health at the council, said Portsmouth has a higher than average rate of smoking in adults, pregnant women and young people. He said smoking kills 300 people in the city each year.
‘The sale of illegal tobacco makes this even more of a challenge as the cheaper cost means it’s easier for young people to start smoking and harder for people to quit,’ he added.
‘As this case shows, illegal tobacco can also contain even greater quantities of harmful substances than legitimate cigarettes so stamping down on their availability is essential in helping to protect Portsmouth residents.’