Cracking down on illegal tobacco with Operation Shona
Hackney has joined forces with five London councils and HMRC to crack down on businesses selling illegal tobacco and alcohol.
Working in partnership with Islington, Camden, Enfield, Newham and Waltham Forest councils, and officers from HMRC, ‘Operation Shona’ helped to identify 41 businesses across the six boroughs selling illegal and counterfeit goods.
The premises included a barber shop, a kebab shop and an internet café, along with off licenses and corner shops, which were visited by officers after intelligence of criminal activity was gathered. Some of the visits involved trained sniffer dogs to improve detection rates.
Seizures from the premises included:
- 41,452 cigarettes (2,073 packs)
- 11.9kg hand-rolling tobacco (238 x 50g pouches)
- 9kg of chewing tobacco and shisha tobacco
- Over 200 litres of spirits; 520 litres of wine; and 1,100 litres of beer.
Altogether, 68 premises received a visit from officers over the four days of Operation Shona in April and September. All goods were non-UK duty paid, and a small amount was counterfeit or fake.
Five premises were inspected in Hackney to see if they supplied illegal tobacco and alcohol. Three premises were found with illegal products:
- Premises 1: Non-duty paid alcohol seized, 5 x 1 litre Glen’s vodka 1 litre Smirnoff vodka, 77 x 70cl Smirnoff vodka and 2 x 70cl Famous Grouse whisky
- Premises 2: Non-duty paid alcohol and cigarettes seized, including six bottles of alcohol seized, 180 packets of Marlborough Gold king-size, 260 packets of Marlborough Gold original, and 60 packets of Marlborough Red
- Premises 3: Non-duty paid tobacco seized, including 17 packets of Golden Virginia and 2 packets of Amber Leaf 50g
Premises 2 has subsequently closed and further investigations are being carried out on the other two premises with a possible view to enforcement action.
Selling illegal tobacco is not a victimless crime – as well as depriving the community of funding for much needed public services, it exposes residents to the potential health consequences of unregulated tobacco products. All tobacco is harmful, but consumers have no way of knowing how dangerous these products are. I’m also concerned about cheap cigarettes being made available to children, potentially leading to a lifetime of addiction and serious health problems. Operation Shona is a fantastic example of partnership working across London boroughs to stamp this out. I’m hoping to see many more operations like this with fellow boroughs and the HMRC in the months to come.
The sale of illegal tobacco harms our most hard-pressed communities. It is sold cheaply and freely to young people, a time when many smokers start their long addiction. Its availability also undermines attempts to reduce the number of people already smoking in London. We therefore welcome this partnership between the councils in North East London working with HMRC to take collective action to rid illegal tobacco from their communities.
The illegal tobacco market robs the taxpayer of money that could otherwise be spent on providing vital public services like schools and hospitals, often falling into the hands of criminals. Projects like Operation Shona allow trading standards teams and other key organisations to work together and develop intelligence to help get illegal tobacco off the streets. Selling illegal tobacco is a crime and more enforcement work like this could help to tackle the problem directly.