Rogue shopkeepers in Hartlepool who are tempted to sell illegal tobacco are being warned they could lose livelihood in a new crackdown.
Crooked store owners who sell smuggled or fake tobacco could not only lose their alcohol licence but also face huge tax bills and be closed down by the authorities.
It comes as the regional anti-smoking body Fresh launches its Keep It Out campaign to encourage people in local communities to report sales of illegal tobacco which can help children get hooked.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “The trade in smuggled and fake tobacco is linked to organised crime and enables North East kids to smoke.
“Most people do not want it in their local community and it is great to see more and more people giving information to help keep it out.
“The vast majority of shopkeepers are honest and are appalled by the sale of illegal tobacco.
“However, the law is catching up with the dishonest few who think they can get away with it.”
Figures show that rogue shops are increasingly turning to illegal tobacco sales in the North East.
In 2009, shops were the main source for just one in 20 (4%) illegal tobacco buyers.
But in 2017 they were the main source for almost a quarter of customers.
Private addresses, or so called ‘tab houses’, were still the main source, with just under half of buyers admitting it was where they get illegal tobacco.
Yesterday, the Mail reported that the Lifestyle Express Store, in Middle Street, Blackhall, was ordered to shut down by magistrates after facilitating sales of illicit and counterfeit tobacco products from various vehicles outside the shop.
Fresh says illegal tobacco has helped over half of underage smokers in the North East get hooked on smoking.
Anyone with information about houses, shops, pubs or individuals selling illegal tobacco can give information online at www.keep-it-out.co.uk or call the illegal tobacco hotline at 0300 9990000.
All information will be treated anonymously.