Crackdown on bootleg tobacco suppliers in Gloucestershire
POCKET money spent on illegal toxic tobacco in Gloucestershire is worth an estimated £211 million on the region's black market, say Trading Standards.
It is thought a shocking one in five smokers in the county have tried illegal tobacco, with the dangerous unregulated, tax free products causing serious health issues to those becoming hooked.
Children and those living on a shoe-string budget are being targeted by criminal gangs who supply 'tab houses' to feed illegally imported cigarettes into communities.
Enforcement officers from Trading Standards in the county said they are struggling to stay ahead of suppliers.
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Martin Bruton, section manager of Trading Standards in Gloucester, says shops are becoming ever more inventive with hiding bootleg tobacco.
"Our teams have found tobacco hidden in suspended roof ceilings in shops, behind shelves and display cabinets and in storage heaters," he said.
"We rely on intelligence from the public, but we do carry out random searches."
The county unit is focusing on town centre shops in Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud.
Tobacco seizures are tested, often showing dangerous levels of tar and carbon monoxide. Traces of rat droppings and sawdust have also been found in some cases.
South West spokesman for HM Revenue & Customs, Bob Gaiger said: "Illegal tobacco is often the first stage in a chain of illegal trades funding criminality.
"These criminals smuggle tobacco and cigarettes illegally into the country. Some of these will be counterfeit and will have been manufactured in completely unregulated environments to be sold at knock-down prices."