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Trading Standards says around 20 shops in Kent selling counterfeit cigarettes and alcohol

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

Around 20 shops are selling counterfeit tobacco and alcohol in Kent.

Trading Standards believe they are supplying illegal products that are dangerous to the consumer at a cheap price.

All cigarettes available in the EU are self-extinguishing but counterfeit products imported from China or Russia do not have this safety feature.

Trading Standards say around 20 shops in Kent are selling counterfeit goods
Trading Standards say around 20 shops in Kent are selling counterfeit goods

This means unsuspecting consumers who do not stub out their cigarettes enough could set fire to sofas, beds or combustible materials.

Trading standards officer at Kent County Council, Oliver Jewell, warned: "We find these products predominantly in what I call the 'mock convenience store'.

"These are the shops you go in and find it's floor to ceiling of toilet rolls, packed mixes and canned goods which have little to no expiry date.

"Essentially that shop has been set up with props purely for selling illegal tobacco.

"We spent pretty much all our time on "mock" convenience stores since these are the biggest problems we have in the county at the moment.

"There are also genuine stores that sell illegal tobacco but we don't have any of them since they are dealt with pretty swiftly."

Counterfeit alcohol can contain chemicals such as cleaning fluids and antifreeze
Counterfeit alcohol can contain chemicals such as cleaning fluids and antifreeze

Ali Anwari was convicted of illegal tobacco tobacco from store East Hill Groceries in Dartford in January.

In total 813 packets of cigarettes and 1.9kg of rolling tobacco were seized by police.

Anwari was sentenced to six months’ prison, suspended for a period of two years, and 240 hours of unpaid work for the community.

Mr Jewell added criminal vendors are not just problematic because they are avoiding tax but they are also "defeating health policy by making smoking affordable".

Tax on cigarettes has been raised over the years to discourage people from picking up smoking or encourage people to quit.

Age restrictions are also not always adhered to by such shops so underage teenagers could also be lighting up.

Mr Jewell added there are often young children working in these mock conveniences hidden in tight places passing the illegal products to the cashier.

"Commonly used substitutes for ethanol include chemicals used in cleaning fluids, nail polish remover and car screen wash, as well as methanol and isopropanol which are used in antifreeze and some fuels" - Professor Paul Wallace

Despite their intentions, residents are still buying cigarettes there as it is cheap and convenient.

According to a survey by Trading Standards, 70% buy illegal tobacco from shops.

However, 85% say they would stop if they knew the shops supplied to children, with 75% agreeing to stop if they believed it was linked to gangs.

Alcohol with fake labels are also sold, which seriously affect the health of those who drink it due to the unknown chemicals in the liquid.

Alcohol education charity Drinkaware’s chief medical advisor Professor Paul Wallace said: "Commonly used substitutes for ethanol include chemicals used in cleaning fluids, nail polish remover and car screen wash, as well as methanol and isopropanol which are used in antifreeze and some fuels.

"These other types of alcohol can produce similar effects to ethanol in terms of making you feel tipsy. But they are also potentially very dangerous."

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