22 shops caught selling illicit tobacco in Leeds

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More than 20 venues in Leeds were caught selling illicit tobacco products in an undercover sting.

Continental shops, a city centre pub and a retailer close to Leeds’s universities were allegedly among those flogging counterfeit tobacco and illicit whites – cigarettes that have been smuggled into the UK from abroad.

Some of the counterfeit products bought from shops in Leeds

Some of the counterfeit products bought from shops in Leeds

The products were found in a test purchasing operation by tobacco giant Japan Tobacco International (JTI).

Previous tests have found counterfeits containing rat droppings, dead flies and even human excrement. The trade in contraband has been linked to serious organised crime.

JTI’s media relations manager Mark Yexley said: “The impact of the illicit trade in tobacco on society is far reaching and members of the public, retailers, suppliers and the government all have a role to play to combat the issue.

“Criminals who deal in illegal tobacco will sell to all-comers, including children. JTI fully supports any efforts to rid our streets of illegal tobacco and stop criminals infiltrating our communities.”

The company carried out test purchases at venues across Leeds. Several of the shops that failed were in Beeston, Armley and Harehills.

The evidence will be handed to law-enforcement agencies.

It comes after an unrelated campaign by West Yorkshire Trading Standards led to more than 400,000 bootleg cigarettes being seized in six months.

Officers also seized more than 200kg of illicit hand rolling tobacco, with a street value of nearly £15,000.

There are 16 investigations ongoing and three criminal prosecutions pending.

Shopkeepers can be fined up to £5,000 and banned from selling tobacco products for up to six months if caught.

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