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Durham County Council

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Rogue retailers snared by multi-agency task force

Published June 12, 2017 4.33pm

Illicit tobacco traders and rogue traders have been snared in a series of multi-agency stings that targeted black market cigarettes and underage sales.

At a meeting of our Cabinet, councillors will hear how the authority, alongside Durham Police and the County Durham Tobacco Alliance, has so far seized 130,340 cigarettes, 71.15kg of hand rolled tobacco and £14,600 in cash.

Alongside the enforcement of laws restricting the sale of tobacco, 'test purchases' were carried out by volunteers who entered retail premises and attempted to buy age-restricted products such as alcohol, DVDs, fireworks, and spray paints. 

The Cabinet meeting, to be held on Tuesday 20 June, will hear how 69 out of 100 test purchases resulted in a failure for the retailer as they neglected to ask for the appropriate age identification. 

Failed alcohol test purchases, which made up two thirds of the test purchases and one third of the failures, will in the first instance result in the issuing of a fixed penalty notice and a requirement to attend training. 

Subsequent failures will prompt a review of the premise's license. In 2016/17, reviews were taken against three premises resulting in the surrendering of one license and two other premises having conditions attached to their existing license. 

Councillor Brian Stephens, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods and Local Partnerships, said: "I'm glad to see such decisive action being taken against rogue traders, and I welcome the great strides we've made in tackling this menace over the last year. Retailers have a responsibility to their communities to help combat underage drinking and tobacco addictions, and we want those who fall foul of the law to know that we take our obligations to protect our young people very seriously. Conversely, I'd like to applaud those retailers in County Durham who stick to the law and act as responsible traders."

We have a statutory duty to consider, at least once a year, the extent to which the authority should carry out a programme of enforcement under the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991 and the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2013. 

These acts deal with the enforcement of underage sales of tobacco and aerosol paint canisters respectively. 

We also has responsibility for the enforcement of age restricted products, namely tobacco, nicotine inhaling products, spray paint canisters, alcohol, videos and DVDs, cigarette lighter refills, and fireworks. 

Jane Robinson, corporate director of adult and health services, said: "Illegal tobacco is harming local communities across County Durham - it is not a victimless crime and often has links to wider criminal activity. Its low price and availability encourages people to keep smoking, and children and young people are often targeted by unscrupulous traders. We are determined to stop the supply of illegal tobacco, which makes it too easy for a new generation to get hooked on smoking and even harder for people to quit and remain smoke free."

For many years the authority has taken a proactive approach to tackling the criminality and harms associated with the illegal supply and misuse of alcohol and tobacco within County Durham. 

Working in partnership with the police and the County Durham Tobacco Alliance, high visibility enforcement campaigns, aimed to tackle the health inequalities and links with organised crime associated with these products, will continue to be at the forefront of the campaign. 

The Cabinet will be asked to approve the Enforcement Programme for 2017/18 on Tuesday 20 June 2017.