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Trading Standards bust illegal tobacco gang

A box full of packets of cigarettes seized during a raid in Sheffield

Sheffield Trading Standards, in partnership with Greater Manchester and Scottish Trading Standards executed warrants and conducted searches last Friday (28 January), at storage locations, shops, vehicles and homes used by a gang supplying and operating retail outlets selling counterfeit and illicit tobacco.

During the raids more than half a million cigarettes were seized and more than 2,000 packets of hand rolling tobacco (HRT).  At average normal retail prices for genuine products of £11 per packet, the cigarettes would be worth more than £275,000 and HRT costing £16 for a 30g pouch worth more than £32,000.

Video footage from the operation at a container in Sheffield

Further investigations will now be made into the criminal assets of the gang members under proceeds of crime legislation by Trading Standards Financial Investigators, before suspects are interviewed.

While the operation was focussed on the sale of illegal tobacco products, a container of cannabis and illegal prescription only drugs including Viagra & Steroids was also found by sniffer dogs during the searches in Manchester.  Greater Manchester Police are now investigating the storage container owner. 

A van driver, who hastily tried to escape officers at the Rochdale self-store site, was also stopped and the contents of the van and two storage containers in his name seized. Counterfeit clothing was found in his possession and is estimated to be worth £2.4million.

The raid came after a period of surveillance by the Sheffield Trading Standards Team, who were first alerted to the suspected activity by intelligence reports from the public.

Councillor Alison Teal, Executive Member for Health and wellbeing at Sheffield City Council said:

“This is a great result for our Trading Standards team who work really hard to keep people safe in Sheffield – their work plays such an important role in the city and as this partnership work demonstrates, right across the nation.

“Surveillance and enforcement action is a critical part of the Sheffield tobacco control programme. Cheap and illicit tobacco undermines our efforts to help people quit and makes it easier for children to get hold of cigarettes at pocket money prices, with illegal cigarettes often sold in singles, so they get hooked from a young age.

“We are committed to stamping out cheap and illicit tobacco from our communities, it causes immense harm and as we’ve seen from the results of this operation, is often linked to other aspects of crime and organised criminal activity. We are working in collaboration with city partners to address the wider issues and impacts illegal tobacco has on communities such as drugs, money laundering and exploitation.

“Removing illegal tobacco from our communities will not only tackle these serious criminal impacts but is vital in supporting the continued steady decline in smoking that we have seen for the last five years in Sheffield.”

Boxed up tobacco products - evidence taken during the operation

Sheffield’s Trading Standards tobacco team is funded by Sheffield City Council Public Health to investigate criminals involved in the supply of counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes & hand rolling tobacco. Trademark offences for selling counterfeit brands can carry sentences of up to 10 years imprisonment.

Those who suspect or have concerns about the sale of illicit tobacco products can contact Sheffield Trading Standards at or call the consumer direct helpline run by Citizens Advice who will pass your intelligence to Trading Standards. Telephone: 0808 223 1133  Mon to Fri 9am to 5pm.

Smokefree Sheffield provides lots of support for people who want to quit smoking.