Boxes of suspected counterfeit e-cigarettes were seized from a concealed storage space above a ceiling at a Maidstone business as part of a nationwide crackdown on the illegal tobacco trade.
The contraband was recovered at the premises in Knightrider Street on Wednesday (19 January 2022) during a joint operation involving police and Kent County Council Trading Standards.
Four other retailers in the town were inspected in the swoop – part of Operation CeCe, a joint initiative between National Trading Standards and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to tackle unlawful tobacco sales – with additional seizures made at addresses in High Street, King Street and Calder Road.
Items recovered included illegal tobacco, believed to be for sale without payment of the necessary UK duties, banned e-cigarettes and vaping products, along with potentially smuggled whisky.
The total value of seizures is estimated to be between £15,000 and £20,000.
Police Constable Jared Dungate, of the Maidstone Community Safety Unit, said: “The supply and sale of illicit cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol is often connected to organised crime groups and has a detrimental effect on law-abiding retailers who pay the relevant duties and taxes.
“We will continue to make regular visits to premises with our partners who will apply for closure orders where businesses persistently fail to comply with the law.”
Kent County Council Principal Trading Standards Officer Oliver Jewell said: “The e-cigarette devices seized were up to six times over the legal limit.
“E-cigarettes that don’t meet UK requirements will not have undergone any of the necessary checks and as a result carry a risk of containing potentially harmful banned ingredients.
“As well as posing a health risk, illegal tobacco brings crime into our communities and should not be tolerated. It undermines local businesses who follow the rules, funds organised crime and makes smoking more affordable for young people and those trying to quit the habit.
“For all these reasons, we will continue to work alongside our enforcement partners to take action against the sale of illegal tobacco in Kent. Residents who become aware of shops selling illegal tobacco can also report them anonymously through 0300 999 6 999 or by visiting www.stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk”
Operation CeCe was launched in January 2021 across England and Wales. Read more about this National Trading Standards’ priority project here