City of Wolverhampton Council is calling on the Government to give local authorities greater powers to tackle the tobacco black market.

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Type=image;ImageID=9023;ImageClass=left;ImageTitle=Jin Ling brand which have caused fatal fires;TitleClass=strong;

Type=image;ImageID=9025;ImageClass=left;ImageTitle=More items seized in the raid at Sams Eurostyle;TitleClass=strong;

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The council feels that existing laws are inadequate to deal with the growing problem.

It comes after a shop which was the target of a high profile seizure of potentially lethal counterfeit cigarettes and alcohol last summer was again raided last week and another significant quantity of suspect goods were found on the premises.

Among the 25,000 cigarettes seized in the latest operation at Sam Eurostyle on Newhampton Road West, Whitmore Reans, were packs of the controversial 'Jin Ling' brand.

Jin Ling cigarettes are known to have started at least 1 fatal house fire in the UK and are particularly dangerous because, unlike legitimate brands, they do not automatically extinguish when not being actively smoked.

Sam Eurostyle was raided last July as part of Operation Riposte - the council led crackdown on illegal tobacco and alcohol - and subsequently had its licence to sell alcohol revoked by the authority.

However, concerned members of the public informed the council's Trading Standards team that the premises were still being used to sell illegal cigarettes. The tip off prompted the latest raid on Wednesday (10 February) where officers found the suspected fake cigarettes in a gated back room.

In the face of such flagrant behaviour, the council feels the current law is inadequate to tackle fake tobacco sales and is now lobbying Central Government to allow local authorities to licence tobacco in the same way as alcohol.

Any business that wants to sell alcohol must have a licence from the council and action can be taken to suspend or revoke the licence to prevent crime and disorder and on public safety grounds.

But no licence is required to sell tobacco which is why Sams Eurostyle has been able to continue to trade despite losing its alcohol licence following the raids last summer.

Councillor Steve Evans, cabinet member for city environment, said that the law as it stands was not fit for purpose and the council was keen to spearhead a lobbying campaign with other local authorities and interested parties to persuade the Government to take action.

He said: "It is an utterly ludicrous situation that we can seize a huge quantity of potentially lethal fake cigarettes from a business, but we have no powers to stop future cigarette sales from that business.

"As we have seen in Wolverhampton, we have raided a shop just a few months ago and took away significant quantities of fake booze and cigarettes. The alcohol licence was revoked, but because no such powers exist for tobacco sales, unsurprisingly they remain open and are continuing to break the law.

"I have to use an old adage and say the law is an ass.

"This situation has to change and we are calling on Central Government to change the law and give us powers to licence tobacco sales as well as just alcohol.

"This would help to safeguard the public from this terrible trade which is putting lives at risk and costing the public purse a fortune in lost tax revenue because of course no duty is paid on these products."

The council has already opened discussions with the Local Government Association and is keen to seek its support for the campaign.

A letter has also been sent to the Home Secretary Theresa May MP outlining the issue and requesting new powers that would put cigarette sales on the same footing as the sale of alcohol.

The letter was responding to policing minister Mike Penning MP who praised the council's work with Operation Riposte but confirmed that the Government currently have no plans to require tobacco retailers to be licensed in the same way as businesses selling alcohol.

Instead he stated the Government would consult this year on a 'vendor registration scheme'.

Councillor Evans added:  "A consultation on a registration scheme is far from adequate.  Such a scheme would lack the important safeguards of a robust licensing regime. We are talking about organised criminal gangs selling dangerous products to the public.  What is needed is tough powers to control unscrupulous retailers which have been successful with controlling the sale of alcohol."

  • released: Wednesday 17 February, 2016