Tens of thousands of potentially lethal illicit cigarettes hidden in brick walls and waste bins have been seized following a crackdown in Wolverhampton.

Officers from City of Wolverhampton Council’s Trading Standards team targeted a number of businesses where the goods were believed to be on sale.

Specially trained detection dogs were used to sniff out illegal tobacco products and the operation found more than 22,000 counterfeit and/or non UK duty paid cigarettes alongside illicit vapes and other tobacco products.

The majority of the haul was from just one premises, where goods were found in waste bins and boxes hidden in brick walls. 

More than 15,000 illicit cigarettes, 33 pouches of counterfeit hand rolling tobacco, 2.25kg of shisha and £5,000 in cash were discovered at the site. In addition, officers found a member of staff who was working illegally.

Other items seized from businesses during the day of action included more than 7,000 illicit cigarettes, a further 1.2kg of hand rolling tobacco, 175 vapes and 73 packs of oral tobacco.

If genuine, the retail value of the tobacco products seized would be an estimated £15,000 and duty evaded would come to a minimum of just over £8,000.

The raids were carried out under Operation CeCe, which is a National Trading Standards initiative in partnership with HMRC to tackle the illegal tobacco trade.

Trading Standards officers were joined by officers from West Midlands Police, immigration officials and tobacco detection dogs from B.W.Y Canine.

Action is set to be taken against the owners of premises where the material was seized while further investigations will be carried out to identify their suppliers.

Councillor Craig Collingswood, the council’s cabinet member for environment and climate change, said: “We carry out these operations to help protect the public from dangerous products as well as to protect our legitimate businesses.

“Counterfeit cigarettes pose even greater health risks than legitimate ones, as they can contain higher levels of nicotine, tar and heavy metals, all while being sold at pocket money prices which encourages children to purchase them.

“Illegal cigarettes are unregulated and are not self extinguishable. They have also been attributed to a number of house fires and deaths.”

Wendy Martin, Director, National Trading Standards, said: “Operation CeCe seeks to protect local communities from the harm that the illegal tobacco trade brings. 

“Beyond the significant effects of tobacco on people’s health, the illicit tobacco trade is often part of other criminal activity including drug smuggling, people trafficking and illegal alcohol, and DVD production. 

“The intended sale price of seized cigarettes is often less than half the cost of legal tobacco. This not only undermines work to reduce the number of people who smoke but also impacts legitimate businesses.

“Operation CeCe has been hugely successful in removing a significant amount of illegal tobacco products off our streets and disrupting this illicit trade.”

Once investigations relating to the raids in Wolverhampton have been completed, the illicit cigarettes and tobacco will be handed over to a recycling scheme to be dealt with in an environmentally friendly way.

Officers from our Trading Standards team have issued some warning signs to look out for when buying cigarettes or tobacco.

The tell tale signs of illegal tobacco include unusual taste, cheap price, unusual packaging, spelling mistakes or incorrect logos. They may also have health warnings that may not be printed in English, might not display a picture, might not be printed on a white background and may have different sized lettering to usual.

Anyone who thinks they may have been sold illegal goods or suspect someone is selling them, email trading.standards@wolverhampton.gov.uk or visit Citizens Advice.