'Great concern' over criminal gangs supplying illegal tobacco in Norfolk
More than 1.2 million illegal cigarettes have been seized in Norfolk over the past year - and worried watchdogs have pledged to target the criminals supplying the tobacco.
The scale of the problem is of ‘great concern’, according to bosses at Norfolk County Council’s Trading Standards service, who say the tobacco can contain rat poison, asbestos and mould spores, while helping fund organised criminal gangs.
Illegal immigrant Ping He, 49, was recently jailed for 12 months after he was found at his home in Notykin Street in Bowthorpe with £310,000 of illegal tobacco stashed in 35 bin bags.
The court heard it was a “significant operation”. But He was at the bottom of the pyramid, working for his ‘boss’ to fill fake pouches with tobacco.
Norfolk Trading Standards has also seized illgeal cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco from shops, including in King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth.
But Sophie Leney, head of Norfolk Trading Standards, told members of Norfolk County Council’s communities committee, that the work to stop sales by retailers will now be followed up by targeting those supplying the tobacco.
She said: “We are moving up a level to look at the suppliers and are working with the police.”
On the scale of the problem, a spokesman for Trading Standards said: “Illegal tobacco continues to be an area of great concern; not only in terms of the associated, additional. health risks, but also due to the potential for extending illegal sales of tobacco products to under 18s.
“Illegal tobacco is being sold by unscrupulous businesses from under the counter in most cases. It follows that this makes it more accessible to young people as it is more affordable.
“In addition to counterfeit tobacco, there is an increasing amount of illegally imported tobacco which bears only foreign or no health labelling.
“Not only is this tobacco being sold without UK duty being paid, but the mandatory health risks labelling on the packaging is missing.
“Young people having ready access to illegal tobacco poses a significant problem in Norfolk, particularly in Great Yarmouth.”
Anyone with information about illegal tobacco can contact Trading Standards via Citizens Advice on the Consumer Helpline 03454 040506.