A STORE owner has been landed with a four-figure court bill, while many more are facing legal action, after raids by Bolton Trading Standards unearthed thousands of illicit tobacco products.

During a multi-agency inspection of M & M Minimarket in Halliwell Road in March, the team quickly discovered a number of illegal cigarette packets and tobacco pouches in a black bag.

Illicit tobacco can be counterfeit items manufactured illegally in the UK, or brought in from overseas without duty being paid. The goods are then sold to the public at significantly lower prices.

Shop owner Pulla Ahmed, who tried to sneak the bag out of the back exit when officers arrived, claimed to have bought the items for personal use from a man who came into the shop just 20 minutes earlier.

When asked to provide CCTV evidence of this transaction he claimed his surveillance system had stopped working.

Bolton Magistrates’ Court found Mr Ahmed guilty of intent to supply illegal cigarettes and ordered him to pay a £100 fine and £1,300 in costs.

The raid was part of an ongoing campaign by Bolton Council and partner agencies to clamp down on the trade in illicit tobacco.

Illegal tobacco products represent a serious threat to public health, deny valuable tax funding to the NHS and other public services and the black-market trade has been linked to organised crime.

In early December, Trading Standards officers using a specially trained dog, found 2,425 packets of illegal cigarettes and 7,500g of rolling tobacco in just two Bolton shops.

The store owners, who cannot be identified due to pending legal action, could now face fines and other sanctions against their businesses.

Bolton Council’s Executive Cabinet Member for Environmental Regulatory Services, Cllr Anne Galloway, said:

“Illicit tobacco harms both the health of the individual and damages the community as a whole.

“Bolton Council will continue to clamp down on business owners who ignore their legal and moral obligations by selling these products.

“I also appeal to anyone who may consider buying illegal cigarettes.

“It is not a harmless way to save money, it puts your own health at risk and takes valuable resources away from the NHS while putting cash into the pockets of criminals.”

Illegal tobacco sales can be reported anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online at keep-it-out.co.uk.