Kate Pike, Tobacco Lead for North West Trading Standards is working with the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership to make smoking history by keeping illegal tobacco out of our communities.
The crackdown on illegal tobacco is part of Greater Manchester’s wider efforts to cut smoking rates and make smoking history for future generations. All tobacco kills, but illegal tobacco gets kids hooked on a lethal addiction and its cheaper prices undermine smokers’ attempts to quit.
Here Kate explains what happens when people report the sale of illegal tobacco and how that intelligence helps partners across Greater Manchester work together to remove it from our neighbourhoods:
We have seen an increase in reports of illegal tobacco sales recently and this has enabled Trading Standards to make a number of seizures over recent months. We are grateful to every single person who makes a report, as each piece of intelligence helps us build up a picture of illegal sales and the action we need to take.
We receive anonymous reports from the public, when an individual calls Crimestoppers or makes an online report at www.keep-it-out.co.uk, but we also receive intelligence from other sources – from the Police, from HM Revenue and Customs, from other partners and sometimes directly from businesses or consumers.
All of these reports are logged onto an intelligence database. We assess each report, consider the most appropriate response and assign a priority rating. We protect the reporter at all stages of the process. Often, we need additional information to confirm reports, which may involve checks on other systems or sometimes surveillance.
Once it’s clear an inspection is required, we consider the best way to do it. Often, we will plan for a number of inspections in a particular area to make best use of a detection dog but sometimes we don’t need a dog as the intelligence we’ve received gives sufficient information to be able to locate the tobacco.
Criminals think they are being very clever with the concealed spaces they build in their shops to store the tobacco. For some reason they often use spaces around the toilet – maybe they think it will deter officers from searching. However, it never does – though if the customers realised where the tobacco that they think is such a bargain was kept, they may not be quite so pleased with their purchase.
Criminals also think they know how to distract the sniffer dogs with different smells and tasty treats. They forget that those smells and deliberate distractions are indicators for the human detectors who accompany the dogs. The dog’s sensitive noses smell the toxic cocktail of deadly components that all tobacco contains. But how do they know where to look for illegal tobacco? That’s a secret I’m not going to share!
Once the tobacco is found, it is seized and taken away. We then decide which penalty is best to use. It often includes prosecution which for persistent offenders could lead to a prison sentence.
However, we can also apply for removal of the shop’s alcohol licence or lottery terminal – as they have shown they are not a fit and proper person to have the privilege of being a licence holder by disregarding the law. There are also processes we can go through to have premises closed down or banned from selling tobacco at all, where there have been persistent sales to children.
It’s always worthwhile reporting the sale of illegal tobacco and giving as much information as possible. Every piece of information can be seen as a jigsaw piece which helps us see the full picture.
The criminals behind the illegal tobacco trade don’t care about your children, your community or you. If you know anything please tell us – you can report anonymously at www.keep-it-out.co.uk or by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111
Tobacco bought on the illegal market is more likely to be the result of organised criminal activity with links to human trafficking, the drugs trade and loan sharks – bringing crime into Greater Manchester communities and exploiting vulnerable people. You can find out more by watching this video.