A sniffer dog used by Cambridgeshire County Council Community Protection Team has helped bring two traders to book after finding hidden illicit tobacco they were selling.

Some 13,120 cigarettes and 5,570g of hand rolling tobacco were found in a hidden compartment with a street value of £3557.50 following a joint operation involving Trading Standards, the Police and Wagtail

On 11 February this year a test purchase was made from the shop Europa, 25a Broad Street, March. The labelling on the pack of 20 Marlboro Gold cigarettes was from Lithuania and therefore did not comply with the UK laws.

An entry warrant was obtained and executed on the 17 March and the rest of the tobacco was found by the sniffer dog in a concealed space at the bottom of the staircase. This tobacco was also from Lithuania and also did not have the proper labelling as required by the Tobacco Products (Manufacture, Presentation and Sale)(Safety) Regulations 2002.

Even as the team served the warrant a customer was being sold 10 packets of illegal cigarettes, for £30.

The then shop owners and directors Laura Pazdagyte and Vytautas Vaitekunas pleaded guilty to selling the tobacco without the proper UK labels at Peterborough Magistrates yesterday, Wednesday. The labels inform smokers of health hazards of the cigarettes and are required by law.

Magistrates heard the cigarettes had been brought into the UK from Lithuania. Pazdagyte admitted in a licensing hearing in June that she had brought the cigarettes into the country and had not declared them to customs officers and therefore paid no duty on them.

Pazdagyte 28 and Vaitekunas 30 of Boyces Road Wisbech were each sentenced to 12 months community order to serve 120 hours in the community. They each have to pay legal costs of £500 and an order was made for the destruction of the tobacco.

The couple told the court that they have since sold the business and had bought the tobacco as they were finding it hard to compete with other shops.

The operation is part of a wider drive by Cambridgeshire County Council Public Health and Community Protection Team to reduce smoking and support traders who follow the law.

Emma Butterfield, Trading Standards Officer for Cambridgeshire County Council, said: "We welcome the decision of the magistrates. The sale of illicit tobacco not only harms law abiding businesses but the health of our communities and takes money from tax payers. We will prosecute where we can and with the use of intelligence and practices, such as the use of sniffer dogs, we will find out those who break the law. We'd encourage anyone who has any knowledge of suspected involvement of selling illegal tobacco to report it to Cambridgeshire Trading Standards (0345 4040 506). Reports can be made anonymously."

Trading Standards, Public Health and experts from the Stop Smoking Service, CAMQUIT are to join an Illegal Tobacco Unit as it visits towns across the county in an effort to raise awareness of the risks of illicit cigarettes and tobacco.

Those visiting the roadshow will learn about the dangers of illegal tobacco and be shown how to spot it in their communities. The Illegal Tobacco Unit will visit the county next week, as follows:

"¢ Monday 19th September "“ Huntingdon (9.30am "“ 12.30pm) / St Ives (1pm "“ 4pm)
"¢ Tuesday 20th September (9.30am "“ 4pm) "“ Wisbech
"¢ Wednesday 21st September (9.30am "“ 4pm) "“ March
"¢ Thursday 22nd September (9.30am "“ 4pm) "“ Ely
"¢ Friday 23rd September (9.30am "“ 4pm) "“ St Neots

Val Thomas, Consultant in Public Health at Cambridgeshire County Council, said: "We would encourage members of the public to visit the Illegal Tobacco Unit as it tours the county. There will be lots of useful information on the health risks of smoking and the dangers of illegal tobacco. Smoking remains one of the biggest risks for health and these cheap cigarettes may encourage more people to smoke. Children and young people are particularly at risk as they are often targeted by sellers. It is important that people avoid these illegal products at all costs to discourage them being sold in their communities."

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