TOWN Hall chiefs in St Helens have scored a major victory in their battle against counterfeit tobacco sellers.
Figures revealed last week show the council’s trading standards officers and St Helens police have seized around 20,000 illegal cigarettes and around 20kpg of rolling tobacco in 2011.
The haul included fake copies of well known brands or illegal unbranded cigarettes smuggled into the UK to avoid tax and duty.
A council spokesman said: “Tobacco smuggling undermines efforts to reduce smoking prevalence and costs the UK taxpayer an estimated £2.2 billion per year.
“Anyone found guilty of possession or supplying illegal tobacco products can face a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
“In this same year 35 retailers were checked to ensure they were not selling cigarettes to children under 18.
“Of the 35 retailers tested just three sold cigarettes to children with both the sales assistant and shop owners facing investigation.
“Penalties for selling cigarettes to under 18s include a fine of up to £2,500 per sale and a year long ban on selling cigarettes.
“Smoking accounted for 81,400 deaths in 2009. The younger someone is when they begin to smoke the more likely they are to continue to smoke into later life.
“Anyone who suspects someone may be selling illegal counterfeit or smuggled tobacco can contact the Specialist Trading Standards North West Illicit Tobacco Enforcement Team on 01925 442 466 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
“Anyone who wishes to report a retailer in St Helens selling cigarettes to under 18s are urged to contact St Helens Trading Standards on 01774 676338. Any retailer who requires help or advice in preventing underage sales to minors can also ring this number.”