Bolton Council has issued a stark warning after thousands of illegal cigarettes were seized in series of spot checks across the borough.
Council officers will now pursue prosecutions against four retailers after shop inspections with a specialist sniffer dog revealed 14,480 unlawful cigarettes and 153 pouches of illicit tobacco.
Illicit tobacco refers to either counterfeit products manufactured illegally, or cigarettes smuggled into the UK in order to avoid excise duty.
The items were discovered stashed in holdalls, within specially constructed hidden compartments and, in one case, in a suitcase found inside the shop’s wheelie bin.
Illegal cigarettes pose a serious risk to public health, deny tax revenue to fund vital public services and place legitimate retailers at an unfair disadvantage.
Studies have shown that the availability of lower cost illicit tobacco also acts a disincentive for those considering giving up smoking.
Academic research into the black market in illegal tobacco has shown the supply is linked to international criminal gangs and the funding of terrorism.
Bolton Council’s Executive Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health, Cllr Debbie Newall, said:
“Illegal cigarettes are sold at low cost, often to young children, and represent a significant risk to public health.
“By avoiding excise duty, these offenders are also depriving public services valuable source of income.
“Buying or selling illegal cigarettes is not a victimless crime and consumers should think long and hard before knowingly purchasing these products.”
Bolton Council is now reviewing the licenses of all the shops involved.