Thousands of pounds of illegal tobacco, including £8,500 in Mitcham, has been seized in London with the help of sniffer dogs over the past two weeks in a city-wide campaign.
The campaign was launched last Monday by London Councils and London Trading Standards to combat and raise awareness of the city’s annual £100m illegal tobacco problem.
Roadshows across the city have led to public tip-offs, and sniffer dogs deployed to great success in raids on newsagents and other stashes.
London Trading Standards’ spokesperson Steve Playle said: “We hope the two week campaign will generate more intelligence for us on the identity of illegal traders and Trading Standards will continue to do what they can to deal with these people.”
HMRC statistics suggest that the market share of illegal cigarettes increased increased last year to 13% after a long period of decline, while the illegal market share for rolling tobacco has decreased from 60% in 2005-06 to 32% last year.
But London Councils media manager Rosie Davenport said: “The main thing for us is not the tax element, it’s the public health element. There are criminal gangs selling this stuff with links to other organised crime.”
Mr Playle said: “A major concern is that illegal tobacco is available at pocket money prices which is more likely to encourage young people to take up smoking.”
Illegal cigarettes are far cheaper than normal cigarettes, costing around £3.50 to £5 for a pack of 20.
As well as combating the inherent public health dangers of smoking, certain types of fake counterfeit cigarettes are especially harmful to health.
Counterfeit cigarettes have been found to contain substance including toxic metals like cadmium, mould and excrement and some pose a fire risk as they don’t self-extinguish.
But Trading Standards are having success in cracking down on the problem, not least due to their increasing use of sniffer dogs.
Mr Playle said: “Before sniffer dogs, finding illegal tobacco was far more difficult.”
B.W.Y. Canine, a detection dog supplier, has provided four spaniels, Yoyo, Phoebe, Ralph and Arthur, to the campaign.
Tobacco detection dog handler and trainer Stuart Phillips explained that over the past two years the demand for tobacco dogs has trebled.
From working one or two days a week, six months a year on tobacco detection, he now works full-time on tobacco detection across the country.
He said of dogs that specialise in detecting tobacco: “I prefer working with tobacco dogs. They’re always keen to work. They’re good at their job. These dogs really put the hours in.
“Not a day goes by where we go out and we don’t find anything. One of the dogs in the past five years has found £7m of tobacco products.”
Anyone with information on illegal tobacco trade can call Trading Standards on 03454 04 05 06.