MORE than 60,000 illegal cigarettes have been seized from off licences and other businesses in the town in the last 12 months, according to latest figures.
Names of the shops where seizures have taken place could not be revealed while legal proceedings take place but officers confirmed there has been less than 10 seizures in the past year with some repeat issues.
Peter Astley, assistant director of regulation and protection at Warrington Borough Council, said while figures show the problem of illicit tobacco is reducing nationally, the team in Warrington are getting better at detecting this type of crime.
He added: “It’s a very clandestine operation and people who sell these kind of products have links to fairly sophisticated supply chains and go out of their way to avoid detection.
“This isn’t a simple Robin Hood crime, it’s serious and linked to organised criminals.
“Smoking is the greatest cause of preventable death and it is very important that we do whatever we can to regulate supply of the illicit tobacco and sales to young people.”
Counterfeits and fictitious brands known as ‘Cheap whites’ from eastern Europe have infiltrated the town’s tobacco market to avoid duty being paid on them.
Seizures so far have been described as ‘medium-scale’ from shops, using sniffer dogs to find concealed stashes, rather than large warehouses with work currently taking place to track back along the supply chain.
Mr Astley added: “We’re getting more and more intelligence from the public and even people who smoke think this is wrong as we find they’re fairly indiscriminate and don’t care about selling to children.
“We find mums worrying about their children smoking will report them and it has a wide impact as a significant amount of money is being taken out of the country.
“Retailers selling genuine tobacco will also struggle to compete with those selling illicit.
“While illicit tobacco levels nationally are reducing and smoking rates are falling in Warrington, we will not be complacent and take a hard line against anyone selling these products.”
Anyone suspicious someone is selling illicit goods should call Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 040506 or call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.