A major all-Wales trading standards crackdown on illegal and fake tobacco has resulted in the seizure of more than a million cigarettes and over 3,000 pouches of tobacco with a street value of almost £287,000.
The seizures have been made as part of Operation CeCe, an ongoing initiative carried out in partnership with Her Majesties Revenue and Customs which aims to deter criminals, tackle the problem of illegal tobacco and prevent it from falling into the hands of children and young people.
Many of the cigarettes seized would have otherwise ended up in the hands of children and young people in Wales’ poorest communities, which are being targeted by criminals selling illegal tobacco.
Research has found that eight per cent of 15 and 16-year-olds in Wales 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. A survey by the charity ASH Wales has also found that 76 per cent of smokers tried their first cigarette before the age of 18.
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.
“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.”
Cllr Dhanisha Patel, Cabinet Member for Wellbeing and Future Generations, said: “All cigarettes and tobacco are harmful, but people should also be aware that fake tobacco is even more hazardous than the real thing because you can never be sure what you are smoking.
“Counterfeit and other illegal tobacco does great harm in the community, not least because it is cheaper and often easier to get hold of if you are underage or are on a low income. It removes the price incentive for existing smokers to quit the habit, and makes children and teenagers into nicotine addicts.
“Offenders need to know that they will face consequences if they choose to deal in these illegal products. The actions of trading standards officers within our Shared Regulatory Service are helping to keep local communities safe, and I fully support them and the ongoing success of this operation.”
The sale of illegal tobacco can be reported to Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or by visiting crimestoppers-uk.org. Alternatively, report it directly to the Shared Regulatory Service by visiting their website or calling 0300 1236696.
If you want to quit smoking, call contact Help Me Quit on freephone 0800 085 2219 or visit www.helpmequit.wales