Three people were arrested and suspected illegal tobacco was seized in a major crackdown on the supply network in County Durham.
Four premises in the Peterlee and Shotton Colliery areas were raided by officers from Durham County Council’s Consumer Protection Team and police officers from Durham Constabulary yesterday.
A total of 85,200 cigarettes and 3.6kg of hand rolling tobacco believed to be counterfeit with an estimated street value of more than £17,600 were seized.
Police also uncovered an estimated £31,960 in cash and recovered two suspected stolen vehicles.
During the operation, there were also concerns about animal welfare at one premises, resulting in the involvement of Animal Health and the RSPCA.
A man and two women were arrested on suspicion of the possession and supply of illicit tobacco and other offences.
The operation was part of a major disruption exercise targeting those suspected of being involved in an illegal tobacco supply network and resulted from intelligence received.
Joanne Waller, head of environment health and consumer protection, Durham County Council, said: “These raids are designed to target and disrupt those further up the supply chain who are believed to be heavily involved in the wider distribution of illegal tobacco and the suspected criminal activity linked to it.
“Recently, more and more people have decided enough is enough and are providing information to stop local criminals selling and distributing illegal tobacco in their communities.
“We are determined to reduce the availability of illegal tobacco, which makes it too easy for a new generation to get hooked on smoking and even harder for people to quit and remain smoke free.”
Chief Supt Ivan Wood, of Durham Constabulary, added: “Having dangerous, illegal tobacco undermines the work being carried out by the region’s public health teams in helping residents, particularly young people, quit smoking and lead healthier lives.
“Not only does this trade harm the local community it often has links to wider criminal activity. We shall therefore continue to work with our partners to disrupt this illegal trade.”
Further investigations are now underway to probe the extent of the alleged supply network.
Anyone found guilty of supplying counterfeit tobacco could face up to 10 years in jail and unlimited fines and their assets may be seized.