Crackdown on illegal tobacco in Dorset launched
Dorset authorities have launched a crackdown on illegal tobacco in the county.
Officials claim that one in five smokers in the county use tobacco that has been bought without paying any tax.
Now officers have launched a new campaign to fight the trade and warn of the dangers of unregulated smoking.
Richard Herringshaw, trading standards officer for Dorset County Council, said: "Trading Standards are committed to disrupting the supply of illegal tobacco across Dorset.
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"Through this initiative we are able to gather intelligence to help us complete this task. "Businesses should be aware that if illegal tobacco is being sold on their premises you are liable to a range of fines that could strip you of your livelihood."
Smokefree South West has launched the initiative alongside HMRC, trading standards, the police, Crimestoppers and other enforcement partners, primary care trusts and councils.
HMRC figures show that in 2010 the associated revenue loss caused by illegal tobacco in the UK was estimated to be £2.18bn although that has dropped to £1.86bn today.
It says that two in 10 smokers in Dorset smoke illegal tobacco which has an equivalent retail value of £211m in the region alone.
Fiona Andrews, director for Smokefree South West, said: "Significant progress has been made since February 2011 when we first launched the campaign to tackle the problem of illegal tobacco across the South West. Our collective efforts to tackle illegal tobacco are having a big effect, but more can be done.
"The illegal tobacco market in the UK has halved in the last decade but still poses a real and present threat to children and local communities. Cigarettes and pouches of hand rolling tobacco are offered to our children at pocket money prices making it cheap and all too easy for our children to smoke and become addicted.
"The only people who benefit from this trade are the criminals who don't care about what is in the packets they sell.
"Since illegal tobacco remains part of the range of smuggled and contraband goods traded by criminal gangs it is vital that steady, sustained pressure continues to be applied."
Bob Gaiger, South West spokesman for HM Revenue and Customs, said: "The trade in illegal tobacco across the South West is a very real problem, one that through this partnership initiative we are tackling, but there is more still to be done. Illegal tobacco is often the first stage in a chain of illegal trades that fund criminality.
"These criminals smuggle tobacco and cigarettes illegally into the country.
"Some of these will be counterfeit and will have been manufactured in completely unregulated environments to be sold at knock-down prices. They do not care about the impact on local businesses, your neighbourhood or your children's lives, targeting anyone and anywhere they can make money.
"Together, we are focused on breaking the hold these criminal gangs have on local communities across the South West."
The sale of illegal tobacco is a criminal offence. Anyone wishing to report the selling of illegal tobacco can report anonymously online to trading standards at www.stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.