Millions of Illegal Tobacco Products Seized in Crackdown on Illicit Trade

October 15, 2021 Updated: October 15, 2021

More than five million illegal cigarettes have been seized from local retail outlets in the first six months of this year, Trading Standards said.

The haul of illicit products included more than 1,700 kg (3,700 lbs) of hand-rolled tobacco and 66 kg of (145 lbs) shisha.

In total, more than £2.7 million ($3.7 million) worth of illegal tobacco products have been taken off streets across England and Wales since Operation CeCe, the first joint initiative between National Trading Standards, and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), launched in January.

Operation CeCe is part of a wider Government strategy to disrupt the illegal tobacco market from front-line retailers to global organised crime groups.

National Trading Standards director Wendy Martin said: “Operation CeCe seeks to protect local communities from the harm that the illegal tobacco trade brings.

“Beyond the significant effects of tobacco on people’s health, the illicit tobacco trade is often part of other criminal activity including drug smuggling, people trafficking, and illegal alcohol and DVD production.

“The intended sale price of seized cigarettes is often less than half the cost of legal tobacco. This not only undermines work to reduce the number of people who smoke but also impacts legitimate businesses.

“This operation marks the first collaboration between National Trading Standards and HMRC, and I am delighted that the first six months have been hugely successful in removing a significant amount of illegal tobacco products off our streets and disrupting this illicit trade.”

Simon York, director of HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: “Operation CeCe shows our determination to tackle the menace of illicit tobacco.

“This is a trade that costs the UK taxpayer around £2.3 billion ($3.2 billion) a year, undermining our vital public services and bankrolling a host of other crimes that harm communities, including guns, drugs, and human trafficking.

“Those involved readily undercut legitimate businesses and don’t care who they sell to, including children. HMRC and Trading Standards are determined to stamp out the illicit tobacco trade, as these results clearly show.”

By Josie Clarke