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Illegal tobacco gang brought to justice

Published February 08, 2013

People who trade in illicit tobacco were today sent a strong warning that they will be caught and punished.

It comes after four County Durham residents were given suspended prison sentences and 12 month community orders after appearing at Durham Crown Court to face charges relating to the possession and supply of illegal tobacco.

Linda Smales, 43 and Ian Edward Smales, 47, both of Hawes Crescent, Crook, together with  Kimberley Smales, 24, and Kevin Cavagin, 22, both of Honister Square, Crook, were prosecuted following a major investigation carried out by Durham County Council’s consumer protection team.

The investigation uncovered a significant trade in counterfeit cigarettes from a house on Hawes Crescent, Crook. A lot of the tobacco seized did not carry the legally-required health warnings on the packaging.

Following a series of test purchases, in which illegal cigarettes were sold from the property, trading standards officers, supported by Durham Constabulary, executed search warrants on this property and the one on Honister Square.

They seized a sizeable amount of cash, more than 14,000 illicit cigarettes and 6kg of non-duty paid rolling tobacco.

Ian Edward Smales was given a suspended prison sentence, 8 weeks custody suspended for 12 months and a supervision requirement with the probation service of 12 months.

Linda Smales received a 12 month community order with the requirement of 100 hours unpaid work and 12 months supervision. Both pleaded guilty to supply, possession and labelling offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994 and Consumer Protection Act 1987.

Kimberley Smales and Kevin Cavagin pleaded guilty to possession and labelling offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994 and Consumer Protection Act 1987. Smales and Cavagin both received a 12 month community order with 150 hours unpaid work requirement.

£1,200 prosecution costs were imposed against Cavagin and there were no costs against the other three as they are subject to ongoing Proceeds of Crime Act.

Cllr Bob Young, Cabinet member for strategic environment at Durham County Council, said: “This case sends a clear and strong message to those who trade in illegal tobacco products that we will not tolerate this criminal activity in our communities.

“We have received a wealth of information from the public following the recent ‘Get Some Answers’ campaign helping us to identify those involved in this crime and we will continue to take firm action against those who flout the law.

“This is part of ongoing work involving the county council, the police and HM Revenue and Customs to tackle the problem of illicit tobacco in our communities.

“Much of this tobacco has none of the required health warnings on the packaging.

“Also, this cheap source of tobacco not only takes away the incentive for many smokers to quit but also gives easy access to cigarettes which encourages young people to take up the habit before they realise the harmful effects it can have on their health.”

In many cases, illicit tobacco has no health warnings about the risks of lung cancer, mouth cancer and other diseases which are associated with smoking, which can help motivate smokers to give up the habit.

In some instances the health warnings are printed in Russian, Chinese or Arabic. They are often made in the Far East purely to be sold on by illegal sellers or in local ‘tab houses’.

Sgt Shaun Davis, of Durham Constabulary, said: “The sale of these illegal cigarettes is a real concern.

“The county council works with local shops to uphold age of sale laws and ensure they do not sell harmful products to children.

“Illegal tobacco sellers undermine this and they enable children to buy products that are dangerous to their health.”

Research has shown that nine out of 10 people in the North East think illegal tobacco is a danger as it allows children to smoke while six out of 10 believe it brings crime into communities and 85 per cent of people support efforts to stamp out dealing to children.

Young people aged 14 to 15 were found to be twice as likely to buy illegal tobacco as adults would be.

Anyone with information about people dealing in illegal tobacco can pass it on anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or at



More to News Editors:

All tobacco products have associated health risks and half of all long-term smokers die as a result of the habit.

Good progress has been made in reducing smoking rates in the North East, which are at an all time low of 21 per cent of adults, however smoking remains the greatest cause of premature death in the region.

Illegal cigarettes and tobacco are usually sold at half, or even a third, of the price in legitimate retailers. It is estimated by Cancer Research UK to cause four times as many deaths as illicit drugs because it discourages smokers from giving up and encourages them to smoke more.

Since 2001 HMRC has seized more than 14 billion illegal cigarettes, broke up more than 370 criminal gangs and issued more than £35m in confiscation orders.

Graphic health warnings – including hard-hitting images – were introduced on all UK tobacco products in 2008 after a similar approach in Canada was found to have motivated a third of all smokers to quit.

The World Health Organisation is currently developing a protocol on illicit tobacco to clamp down on illegal tobacco smuggling.