More than 20,000 counterfeit and illicit cigarettes and tobacco have been seized from a Runcorn retailer by Halton Trading Standards officers.

The operation, on Friday 16 July, saw Halton Borough Council Trading Standards officers join forces with officers from Widnes Local Policing Unit to target a prolific seller of counterfeit and illicit tobacco.

The cigarettes, along with 3kg of hand-rolling tobacco were seized from the retail premises and van belonging to the business. The total haul had a retail selling price of over £12,000.

Assisted by the police, Trading Standards officers swooped on the retailer after receiving complaints from Halton residents.  In addition, three top of the range mobile phones were seized from the occupants of the premises.

The possession or sale of counterfeit goods are offences under the Trades Mark Act 1994, which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

A spokesperson from Halton Trading Standards said: “The case is the subject of an ongoing investigation and at this stage there is minimal information we can divulge.  Suffice to say the targeted operation was a result of the excellent partnership work between Trading Standards and Police officers from Widnes Local Policing Unit.

“It highlights how agencies with common goals can work together to achieve results.  In this case to remove a significant amount of counterfeit and illicit tobacco from the market place, whilst disrupting the illegal gains obtained by criminals.

“We are keen for Halton residents to understand the serious safety implications involved when buying cheap counterfeit cigarettes.  Genuine cigarettes are designed to self-extinguish when left ‘unpuffed’, generally referred to as reduced ignition propensity cigarettes.  Whereas counterfeit cigarettes, and even some cheap imports, will continue to burn with an increased risk of causing a fire resulting in fatalities.

“Essentially if cigarettes or tobacco are not sold in the standardised green packaging then the likelihood is they are counterfeit and residents should be wary.  Although counterfeiters have started to copy the plain packaging now too.”

Cllr Martha Lloyd Jones, Halton Borough Council’s portfolio holder for Trading Standards, says: “We have a duty to protect the health of the residents of Halton and so it is important that Trading Standards actively pursues those involved in the sale of counterfeit and illicit cigarettes and tobacco.

“Many of those involved in the sale of counterfeit/illicit cigarettes will quite happily sell to children.  Therefore, I would urge residents to speak up if they know or suspect someone is involved in selling counterfeit goods, all it takes is a brief anonymous telephone call to the Halton Trading Standards Hotline for Alcohol and Tobacco on  0151 511 8787.”

The Hotline is a reporting voicemail facility only and any information provided can be left anonymously, however, please provide enough information to identify those involved and if you want feedback, your contact details too.  Don’t forget any other Trading Standards matters can be reported in the usual manner via the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133.