A MILLION illegal cigarettes with a street value of more than £200,000 have been seized in Wales as part of a major crackdown on the country’s illegal tobacco trade.
The milestone was hit by Welsh Trading Standards Teams taking part in Operation CeCe, an ongoing National Trading Standards initiative in partnership with Her Majesties Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to tackle illegal tobacco.
They say the haul seized during raids carried out across Wales, which includes 1,039,046 cigarettes and 3,377.6 pouches of hand-rolling tobacco, has a total street value of £286,782.30 - money that would otherwise have been in the pockets of criminal gangs.
Many of the cigarettes seized would have ended up in the hands of children and young people in Wales’ poorest communities which are targeted by criminals selling illegal tobacco. Evidence has been found of illegal tobacco supplies in 17 out of 22 local authority areas in Wales and seizures have taken place in 12 areas so far.
Helen Picton, Chair of Trading Standards Wales, said: “The trade in illegal tobacco creates a cheap source for tobacco for children and young people. It also undermines all of the good work being done to stop people smoking and the illegal tobacco trade more often than not has strong links to criminal activity.”
In Wales, 8% of 15 and 16-year-olds still smoke on a regular basis – a figure that has not fallen since 2013. Around 6,000 children in Wales take up smoking every year and three out of four of those children will go on to be long-term smokers.
Smoking is an addiction that begins in childhood, a recent ASH Wales survey found that 76% of smokers in Wales tried their first cigarette before the age of 18.
Suzanne Cass, CEO of ASH Wales, said: “For many children, buying their first pack of illegal cigarettes will be the start of a lifelong addiction that will destroy their health, lead them into poverty and eventually kill them.
“Stamping out this deadly trade is an essential part of reducing Wales’ smoking prevalence which currently stands at 18% of the adult population and leads to more than 5,000 deaths every year.
“We welcome any action that is taken to remove illegal tobacco from our communities and hope that this will continue to form part of any strategy to address Wales’ health inequalities.”
Since the launch of the crackdown in January 2021 Trading Standards and HMRC have been gathering intelligence on criminal tobacco gangs and are planning more raids across Wales in the next few months.
“We need to keep tobacco out of the hands of children, cheap tobacco products make it easier for children to start smoking, as it is sold at pocket money prices by criminals who don’t care about age-restriction laws,” said Helen Picton.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said: “The trade in illegal tobacco harms local communities and affects honest businesses operating within the law. The National Trading Standards initiative in partnership with HRMC is playing a significant role in disrupting this illicit trade and is helping to take illegal tobacco products off the streets.”
Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing Lynne Neagle said: “We are committed to stamping out the sale and use of illegal tobacco. It’s availability makes it easier for children to start smoking, harder for those who want to stop smoking and brings criminality into local communities.
“Operation CeCe has led to the biggest crackdown on illegal tobacco in Wales since devolution. We support the on-going work of HMRC and trading standards Wales. We will shortly be launching an illegal tobacco campaign to raise public awareness and encourage reporting of illegal tobacco.”
If you think that someone is selling illegal tobacco call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or visit http://crimestoppers-uk.org and tell them what you know. Your information can help keep your community safe and healthy.
If you want to quit smoking, call contact Help Me Quit on freephone 0800 085 2219 or visit https://www.helpmequit.wales/