A huge haul of illegal tobacco, along with cash and imitation guns, has been netted in a joint operation between Lancashire County Council Trading Standards and Lancashire Police.
Nearly 2,500 packs of illicit cigarettes were discovered as officers carried out a series of inspections at shops in Chorley, Leyland and Preston.
In one shop, the tobacco was concealed in two cupboards within a tiled wall which were opened by hidden electric switches.
The haul included packs of cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco, with some including counterfeits of recognised brands, and others on which import duty had not been paid. The seized tobacco products are estimated to be worth at least £13,000 in under-the-counter sales.
Five imitation guns, along with toys and lighters which breached safety requirements, non-compliant e-cigarettes, and £1,300 cash were also found during the operation. Items were found at five retailers, while a sixth shop was also warned over unlabelled packaged food products.
No arrests were made but investigations are continuing following the operation on Friday, September 6.
County Councillor Albert Atkinson, Lancashire County Council cabinet member with responsibility for Trading Standards, said: “Unscrupulous retailers and criminal gangs are making huge profits from the trade in illegal tobacco.
“Research has shown that the low-price of illicit tobacco makes it more easily available to young people and undermines efforts to reduce smoking rates, and improve people’s health.
“The sale and manufacture of illegal tobacco also has a serious impact on legitimate businesses, and is something we’re determined to tackle.”
You can report illicit tobacco sales and intelligence to the Citizens Advice Consumer helpline 03454 040506.