THOUSANDS of cigarettes were seized in raids on shops as part of a crackdown on Bolton's illegal tobacco operations.

Over two weeks, Trading Standards officers found 15,000 cigarettes and 1.5kg of rolling tobacco, as well as over 100 bottles of counterfeit vodka, prescription medication and even cannabis.

The raids came on March 19, 25 and 27 and saw handlers with sniffer dogs enter into 19 businesses across the borough alongside police and representatives from the council’s Housing Standards and Licensing Enforcement teams.

The shops cannot be named because they are now the subject of ongoing legal investigations which could see owners brought before the council’s licensing committee or the courts.

All of the raids were based upon intelligence which had been received by the council about the supply of illicit tobacco.

A spokesman for the the authority said inquiries had begun into all the business where contraband was seized, with the aim of prosecuting those involved.

He said: “This was an operation taking place over several days across the borough, targeting multiple businesses suspected of selling illicit tobacco.

“Illegal tobacco products and other items have been seized from some of these premises.

“Customers who have concerns about any products being sold can make an anonymous report to trading standards on or call Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111.”

In addition, any of the businesses with a licence for the sale of alcohol will be the subject of a licence review, which will also be submitted to the council’s Licensing Committee.

In February, a shopkeeper was put under CCTV surveillance by the committee after he was found to have 4,000 cigarettes and 2kg of rolling tobacco in a back room of his store.

Police discovered the stash after a PCSO witnessed a woman enter the shop asking for "cheap ciggys" and point to the rear of the building.

The owner said he had not know the products were illegal.

READ MORE: Shopkeeper caught with over 4,000 illegal cigarettes in back room

Illicit cigarettes or rolling tobacco can include anything which is either counterfeit or has been smuggled, without duty paid. It is often sold at a lower price than regular tobacco products.

In recent years, the government has attempted to crack down on these items as the sale of them undermines the campaign to reduce smoking through the use of taxation.

These products also been linked to organised crime groups who often specifically target young people.

HMRC estimates that the trade in illicit tobacco products cost the UK economy £2.5 billion in lost revenue lost in 2016-17, with 5.5 billion illicit cigarettes and 2,700 tonnes of illicit hand-rolling tobacco were consumed across the country.

The cannabis which was found has been seized by police and the prescription medication is to be destroyed.