Suffolk: Customs officers in plea for help over smuggled cigarettes

SUFFOLK: Customs officers battling black marketeers who ply a booming trade in cigarette smuggling today appealed for help from Suffolk storage unit owners.

Bootlegged tobacco and cigarettes are big business – HM Customs estimates the revenue loss to the public purse is somewhere in the region of �2billion a year, as well as having a massive impact on legitimate small businesses.

The contraband is often sold at car boot sales, in pubs, at small independent stores, or around industrial estates.

However, given the volumes in which consignments come in through containers and lorries at ports such as Felixstowe, storage companies offering rental properties to hold goods are being asked to be vigilant.

Their owners are being urged to report any concerns or suspicions they have to the authorities.

Jennie Kendall, of HM Customs and Revenue, said: “We need the help of the public, but we are particularly keen to hear from self-storage owners if they suspect any illegal activities are involved in their units.

“If they are not sure about their tenants they should telephone the HM Customs hotline anonymously.

Most Read

“We are also keen to alert people to the fact that if they are buying what they believe are bargain cigarettes and tobacco, that far from being a bargain, they are tied in with criminals, and an overall part of that criminality are the organised crime gangs.

“We would ask people and businesses not to buy products for knock-down prices, as they are likely to be illegal.”

There are three types of illegal cigarettes – real brands smuggled in without the duty being paid, packs which are made specifically for the smuggling market and have their own legitimate-looking branding and finally, potentially most lethal, counterfeit cigarettes made to look like real brands.

Analysis from the millions of packets seized over the years show various grim substances inside them, including camel dung, sawdust, and rat droppings. They also contain a high-level of dangerous materials.

Last month customs officers raided more than a dozen independent stores in Ipswich. Nearly 10,000 illegal cigarettes were found in one shop on the outskirts of the town.

The scale of the problem is illustrated by the seizures over a 12-month period. In 2009/10 nationally, 1.7 billion smuggled cigarettes were seized, along with 406 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco.

HM Customs anonymous hotline is 0800 595000.

n What do you think? e-mail or write to Star Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.