TRADING standards chiefs are continuing their crackdown on illegal cigarette sales after an impressive start to their campaign.
In the last four months of 2010, 640,000 boxes of cigarettes were seized by police and customs teams, as well as large numbers of loose tobacco being shipped in from the continent.
Many of the seizures came after tip-offs from members of the public, and officials from the North-East Trading Standards Association (NETSA) are hoping that support will continue.
The problem of illegal cigarettes comes just days after the Mail reported how a man from Hartlepool had been offered cheap imported brands which turned out to contain traces of deadly asbestos.
Richard Ferry, tobacco control manager for NETSA, brought dozens of packets of the illegal cigarettes to the Mail this week.
He said: “There are vast amounts of these cigarettes being smuggled into the region and being sold illegally.
“The brands include Jim Ling, which the Mail highlighted as having asbestos in last week, as well as names such as Yes, Bon International and HRT.
“They are not brands which you can purchase over the counter, they are specifically made for the illegal market.
“But this is a lucrative business, we are not talking about them being made in someone’s back bedroom.
“There are huge factories in places like Russia where they are mass produced and flooded onto the market.
“A suitcase full of boxes of these cigarettes can be worth as much as £3,000, so there is a lot of cash involved which is being filtered back to where they originate from.
“Our concerns are that the health warnings are in a foreign language and we know for a fact they are being sold to children.”
He added: “We have teams working locally who identify shopkeepers who are selling regular brands to youngsters.
“They are dealt with, often through the courts, but this problem of illegal cigarettes being brought in is another issue.
“But we have made good progress in clamping down on this problem in the last six months, and with the help of the police and customs officials, that will continue.”
Anyoneoffered illegal cigarettes is urged to contact Crimestoppers on (0800) 555111.