Co-ordinated raids on 12 shops in Luton have uncovered a large haul in illegal cigarettes.
Luton Borough Council’s Trading Standards unit with a specialist sniffer dog raided the stores on July 15/16.
Around 6,000 cigarettes, 200 cigars and 26kg of other tobacco products were seized.
Illegal tobacco products were discovered in eight of the shops visited, even though illegal cigarettes had already been found before in three of them.
Officers found tobacco scattered in small quantities throughout the shops including under the counter, on top of a drinks cabinet, in an upstairs store room and even in the shopkeeper’s vehicle.
In addition to being non-duty paid, officers suspect some of the tobacco may also be counterfeit.
Cllr Jacqui Burnett, portfolio holder for Trading Standards, said: “Businesses selling cheap illegal tobacco use criminal behaviour to gain an unfair advantage over their honest competitors. These illegal products impact on public health as they are easier for children to afford and can encourage them to take up smoking.
“Smugglers bringing these products into the country are often linked with organised crime, and their profit may be used to fund serious criminal activity such as drug dealing and money laundering.”
She added: “This is the sixth crackdown on this problem in the last two years. The good news is the quantity of illegal tobacco being seized is reducing. But it is concerning that shops are still tempted to sell illegal products, particularly those who have already been caught carrying out this activity.”
The eight shops involved in illegal activity are being formally investigated and face potential prosecution; those with an alcohol licence are likely to have the licence reviewed, resulting in suspension or revocation of their licence.