Call for tougher penalties on illegal tobacco sellers in South Tyneside
In recent weeks, Trading Standards bosses relaunched the ‘Keep it Out’ campaign in a bid to raise awareness of illegal cigarettes in the North East.
The campaign has included posters, publicity and radio adverts in a drive to protect children, improve reporting from the public and disrupt organised crime.
It also aims to shift attitudes towards buying illegal tobacco, which is often picked up from private addresses known as ‘tab houses’.
During a discussion on the issue this week, South Tyneside councillors said tougher penalties were needed to stub out the practice.
“It seems to me we’re in a situation where enforcement and punishment don’t match the crime,” Coun Jim Foreman said.
“It’s a lot more than just a tax dodge, it has huge implications.
“We’re sitting here talking about the tax element but what about the health element, which to me, is a greater burden on the country.
“If punishment and enforcement are not done and people don’t hear about it, you’re not going to get the intelligence because people will say why should I bother?
“I wouldn’t mind seeing some results locally or regionally saying these are the cases that have been successful, but I wouldn’t bet there would be a lot of them.”
Coun Foreman was speaking at a Licensing and Regulatory Committee during an presentation from the borough’s Trading Standards team.
Councillors were told about a successful case in recent years which involved a large haul of illegal cigarettes from a shop.
However, following court proceedings the offender was slapped with a fine of nearly £300.
Coun Alex Donaldson said more should be done to press the government and courts to issue maximum penalties for illegal tobacco sales.
“It’s a mockery, I can’t understand how the courts treat these things,” he said.
Coun Susan Traynor added it was important to tackle the source of the tobacco supply, rather than the “end user.”
The Keep It Out campaign was launched alongside the publication of the North East Illegal Tobacco Survey.
According to the survey, around one in six of the region’s smokers buy illegal tobacco with the situation worsening in areas of social deprivation.
The results found that nicotine addiction often starts in childhood, with 15 years being the average age for new smokers.
Trading Standards bosses said surveillance under the ‘Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act’ had been used in South Tyneside but it was difficult to record illegal tobacco sales taking place.
Although sniffer dogs are the best method for rooting out hidden tobacco stashes in retail premises, Trading Standards said, ‘quality evidence’ is needed to obtain a warrant.
If you have any information on illegal tobacco, report anonymously on phone line 0300 999 0000 or visit keep-it-out.co.uk/anonymous-reporting.
Information provided is anonymous and any information you provide will be treated in strict confidence and in line with data protection laws. Information will be shared with the relevant Trading Standards department and will not be used for any other purpose.