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They are the furry four-legged enforcers who are helping to sniff out the rising tide of illegal tobacco and cigarettes being sold in Hampshire.
Law enforcement teams and their sniffer dogs took to the streets of Southampton this week in a bid to stub out the counterfeit trade.
Trading Standards and Public Health at Southampton City Council joined specially-trained tobacco detection dogs Phoebe, YoYo and Scamp and handler Stu Phillips of the Illegal Tobacco Mobile Unit in Above Bar this week.
The officers were urging the public to help tackle the issue by reporting shop owners and dealers who are selling tobacco products – cigarettes or hand rolling tobacco, shisha or beedis, which have been smuggled, bootlegged or are counterfeit.
A study from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shows that illegal tobacco makes up around 13 per cent of the cigarette market in the UK and 32 percent of the tobacco which goes into roll-ups is illicit.
Information about where the illegal tobacco was being sold usually comes from members of the public.
An operation carried out acting on intelligence from previous roadshows resulted in the seizure of more than £10,000 worth of illegal tobacco from a single premises.
The ‘Keep it Out’ campaign aims to help the public know what illegal tobacco looks like, what the dangers are and encourages them to keep their eyes open and report illegal tobacco being sold in their neighbourhoods.
Service lead for Environment, Street Scene and Health at Southampton City Council Rosie Zambra said: “All tobacco is harmful but illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to start smoking and get hooked.
“Sellers rarely care whom they sell to. Our work, through Public Health and Trading Standards, can make a real difference – fewer people are buying illegal tobacco and fewer people are now prepared to turn a blind eye.
“People can make a real difference to help keep more illegal tobacco off the streets by reporting it. We need to keep the pressure up on those who continue to sell it.”
Reports can be made anonymously via the website stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk/share-info-anonymously or by calling the confidential Illegal Tobacco hotline on 0300 999 6 999.