Customs bosses have warned rogue traders across South Tyneside they could lose their livelihood if they sell bootleg tobacco.
Crooked store owners selling smuggled or fake tobacco products could not only lose their alcohol licence but face huge tax bills from HMRC and closure orders from councils or the police for causing a commercial and a health nuisance.
Figures show that rogue shops are playing an increasing role in illegal tobacco sales in the North East.
In 2009, shops were the main supply source for just one in 20 buyers – but by 2017, stores were the main source for one in four customers.
Private addresses, or ‘tab houses,’ were still the main source for 46% of illegal tobacco buyers.
The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 gave local authorities and police powers to issue closures notices for premises. They can also apply to courts for closure orders for up to 3 months.
North East anti-smoking campaign Fresh is launching its Keep It Out campaign to encourage people in local communities to report sales of illegal tobacco which helps get children hooked on smoking. All people need to do is visit keep-it-out.co.uk/ to report local sales to trading standards with full anonymity.
Increasing numbers of people have been reporting illegal tobacco confidentially since the Keep It Out website was relaunched last October. The website has had more than 540 pieces of information about illegal tobacco from the North East and more than 1,600 from around the country.
Fresh director Ailsa Rutter OBE said: “The trade in smuggled and fake tobacco is linked to organised crime and enables North East kids to smoke.
“Most people do not want it in their local community and it is great to see more and more people giving information to help keep it out.
“The vast majority of shopkeepers are honest and are appalled by the sale of illegal tobacco.
“However, the law is catching up with the dishonest few who think they can get away with it.”
Figures from HM Revenue and Customs show bills for tax and penalties totalling £11.5million were issued to individuals and businesses caught storing and selling illicit tobacco more than once last year.
Anyone with information about houses, shops, pubs or individuals selling illegal tobacco can give information online at www.keep-it-out.co.uk or by calling the illegal tobacco hotline at 0300 999 00 00.
All information will be treated anonymously.