Around £60,000 worth of illegal cigarettes and tobacco was seized during a routine awareness event which ended up turning into a raid.
Trading Standards were in Gillingham High Street yesterday with A Better Medway, to warn people about the dangers of buying and smoking the illegal products.
But while demonstrating how well trained the sniffer dogs – Phoebe, Eric and Scamp – are, the trio got a whiff of some dodgy dealings and uncovered illegal products in two shops, one just off the High Street and one in Canterbury Street.
Angela Green, the tobacco control manager from A Better Medway said: “We were raising awareness about the dangers of these products. They are sold cheaply, and those selling them are not concerned about ID. Because of that are appealing to young people and it opens the gates for people taking up smoking and becoming addicted.
“We’ve had a good response, most people are concerned and want to protect our young people.”
Ian Gilmore from Medway’s Trading Standards team expected to collected a few illegal products but was taken aback by the amount they came upon.
He said: “The quantity of what we’ve found is incredibly alarming. We’re dealing with businesses who make their money solely in illegal tobacco. Everything else in these shops are just props, manky old biscuits and boxes of cereal.
“We can see the level of consumerism and demand for these products and also the level of professionalism from the sellers. This isn’t an ad-hock business, this is organised crime on a huge scale.
“We believe each of these shops has been making about £25,000 per week in these sales.”
Around 13,300 packets of illegal cigarettes were seized on Monday, with a street value of about £45,000. Plus 4kg of tobacco, worth about £13,000.
But if people were buying the genuine article instead, it would be an expenditure of more than £105,000, for the cigarettes alone. That money is being is now not being spent in the high streets and invested into local businesses.
Mr Gilmore warned if things continue, it would drive businesses out of the high streets, and that is was Trading Standards and “committed to challenging”.
For more information and guidance on reporting illegal products visit www.abettermedway.co.uk.
For the full story and comment on the impact this is having on business in the High Street see Friday's Medway Messenger.