May 12, 2016
Illegal cigarettes seized in Burnham area 'may help organised crime'

Pic Chuck Grimmett from Amherst, Ohio, United States of America

Illegal cigarettes seized in Burnham-On-Sea and others parts of Somerset as part of an investigation into the illicit trade of tobacco may be helping to fund organised crime, it has been claimed.

A team of investigators say they have found "widespread" trade in illicit tobacco during a two-day visit to Burnham-On-Sea and other parts of Somerset on behalf of the tobacco industry.

Former Scotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector Will O'Reilly led the operation - and he and a team of test purchasers were able to buy cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco that were available on the black market.

In total, the team were able to buy 12 separate packs of illicit cigarettes – two cartons of cigarettes and a pouch of roll-your-own tobacco across the Wells constituency. Four of those items were bought in Shepton Mallet, the rest in Burnham-On-Sea.

Pic Chuck Grimmett from Amherst, Ohio, United States of AmericaMr O'Reilly said there were three types of illicit cigarettes. The first are 'diverted products' sold only in foreign countries at a cheaper price and then smuggled into the UK to be sold, while the second are counterfeit ersions of familiar brands. The last group, known as 'illicit whites', are cigarettes manufactured for the sole purpose of being smuggled into the UK and sold illegally but buyers have no idea what is in them. Tests have revealed traces of arsenic, rat droppings, human faeces, dead flies and more.

The cheapest illicit whites found in the area were a pack of Jim's on sale for £4 a pack.

"The tobacco we bought in the shops appeared to be contraband – an industry which costs the UK over £2 billion a year. Cigarettes like this are often trafficked in bulk and are flooded into countries by organised crime groups who see cigarettes as an easier and more risk-free way to make money, instead of guns and drugs. The money raised is then plunged back into other criminal activities."

He warned smokers to be on the lookout for cheap tobacco which could be putting lives at risk. "The problem with illicit tobacco is that it's not regulated in any way," said Mr O'Reilly. "Illegally bought cigarettes have been known to contain anything from rat droppings and dead flies to sawdust. They also don't contain safety features which can help to protect smokers from house fires, and illicit cigarettes have been linked to house fires which have caused deaths in other parts of the country."

Meanwhile, Cllr David Hall, the Deputy Leader of Somerset County Council who oversees trading standards, said: "All tobacco, legal and illegal, is harmful to health. The sale of contraband and counterfeit tobacco encourages criminal activity, damages the local economy and poses an additional threat to our children because it is sold at pocket money prices by criminals who are not interested in asking for proof of age."

"Our trading standards team and HMRC are determined to crack down on the sale and supply of contraband and counterfeit tobacco in Devon and Somerset, and we will be joint test purchasing operations in the near future. Previous operations have led to some notable seizures and formal legal action against suppliers. This organisation should provide us the intelligence they have gathered so we can deal with it appropriately."


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