SHOPKEEPERS in the district selling illegal cigarettes will be sniffed out.
Warwickshire Trading Standards is warning there is no hiding place from newly-employed tobacco sniffer dogs. The specialist dogs are so good they can even find tobacco hidden inside walls.
Shop owners whose stores are found to be selling illegal cigarettes face prosecution and the loss of their alcohol licence and National Lottery terminal.
And anyone found guilty of supplying counterfeit tobacco could face up to ten years in jail and unlimited fines.
Trading standards, together with Warwickshire Police, recently swooped on mini-marts, cornershops and newsagents across the county – including Leamington.
Acting on local intelligence, officers seized over 41,400 cigarettes, which if genuine would have been worth over £16,500, and also 15kg of hand rolled tobacco, which would have been worth some £5,300. It was all hidden in bins and bags.
In one unnamed shop, a large amount of illegal tobacco was found by the dogs hidden in a hollowed out wall behind a kitchen cupboard.
Warwickshire Police spokesman Amarjit Atwal said: “We are delighted to be supporting this action to clear the streets of illegal cigarettes, much of which is being sold at pocket money prices, making it easier for children to afford to buy cigarettes and start smoking.
“The people producing and distributing illegal tobacco also have strong links to other forms of criminal activity including drug dealing, money laundering, people trafficking and even terrorism.
“I strongly urge local traders to think twice before agreeing to sell these illegal products, even if you are only offered small quantities. Selling illegal tobacco is a crime.”
And county community safety spokesman John Horner urged people to help by reporting any information they had about the manufacture or sale of illegal tobacco to call the confidential fakes hotline on 0845 894 1008.
No place to hide – a sniffer dog at work during the recent operation to catch shopkeepers selling illegal and fake cigarettes and tobacco. (s)