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Call to shut shops over county's illegal tobacco trade
SOLD on the idea of ASBOs for shops, a Herefordshire councillor now wants Whitehall to buy in.
Paul Rone got to put his idea to parliament where a home affairs select committee is investigating the trade in illicit and counterfeit tobacco in the UK.
This week, Herefordshire Council’s trading standards officers – working with the police – raided three shops in the county to seize counterfeit, smuggled and bootlegged products including 100,000 illegal cigarettes and 8.5kg of illegal hand rolling tobacco with a street value of around £17,000.
Officers uncovered “ingenious” hiding places for the tobacco products like the inside of a door void, the middle of drink cans, and even a false wall built into a stock room where well over 7,000 cigarettes were found.
Coun Rone wants parliament to back a tougher approach to prosecuting such seizures and special retail ASBOs that see shops involved in repeated offences shut down and boarded up.
Having put his ideas to Home Secretary Theresa May last year, he was invited to make a written submission to the select committee.
"Much of the under the counter sale of tobacco in Herefordshire is duty avoided, that is, a legally manufactured product that has been smuggled into the country and has avoided all duties and taxes.
The loss of profit on cigarette and tobacco sales by bona fide retailers is severely damaging to their business' especially the small corner shop and convenience store retailers,” said Coun Rone.
"Of greater concern, though, is the selling of counterfeit tobacco products, that is, cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco that no one knows where they are manufactured or what is in them. The threats to health are frightening,” he said.
Illicit sales also drive much of the under-age tobacco market in the county, with packs of fake cigarettes selling for as little as £2.50.
Mike Pigrem, the council’s head of trading standards and licensing said the potential loss of duty revenue on this week’s seizures alone was around £30k.
“Illicit tobacco - often with foreign labelling - breaches safety regulations requiring pictorial and English health warnings and, unknown to customers, is either counterfeit or a fabricated brand manufactured with “dubious” quality control,” said Mr Pigrem.