An operation tackling illegal tobacco products saw 187,977 illegal cigarettes seized in the West Midlands. In total, more than 2.5 million illegal cigarettes were seized across England.
Two operations in Market Drayton and Oswestry saw over £7,000 worth of black market tobacco seized as part of the first large scale trading standards operation to combat illegal tobacco in England.
Operation Henry took place between May and November 2014 and involved 81 local authorities carrying out intelligence led investigations with specialist tobacco detection dogs, with 67 seizures taking place across the country.
The average seizure rate of illegal tobacco products across England was 56% of premises being found to have illegal tobacco products.
Eight days of searches with dog teams supplied by Wagtail UK Limited were made available for each region, funded by the Department of Health and managed by the Trading Standards Institute. The dogs quickly and effectively found concealed tobacco products in walls, under floorboards and inside furniture.
The stash in the Magdalenka store on Shropshire Street, Market Drayton were found hidden in a variety of locations, including a hollowed out wall behind a mirror in a toilet, concealed within crates of lager and in a small cavity cut out from the bottom of the shop counter.
In total, 8,860 illegal cigarettes and 2.5kg of hand rolling tobacco were seized and destroyed in the raid. The operation led to the owner of the store, Miss Elina Pole, pleading guilty to a number of charges relating to three separate seizures of counterfeit, illicit and non-duty paid cigarettes and tobacco in October at Shrewsbury Magistrates Court.
Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council's Cabinet member responsible for Public Protection, said: "The work carried out by the Public Protection Investigations team as part of Operation Henry has been excellent. The successful prosecution in October signaled the clear intent that the illegal trade in cigarettes and tobacco will not be tolerated, not just in Shropshire but throughout the country. We hope this serves a warning that there are severe consequences for those carrying out such illegal trade."
HM Revenue and Customs estimates that in 2012-13 the UK economy lost £1.6bn as a result of illicit tobacco. Nine per cent of all cigarettes and 36% of all rolling tobacco smoked in this country is believed to be illicit. There are fears that the widespread availability of illegal tobacco products will undermine efforts to reduce smoking prevalence by making smoking more affordable and accessible.
Consumers who are concerned about any product on sale are encouraged to report the matter to the Citizens Advice Consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06 with whom Shropshire Council Public Protection Team works in partnership.