Sniffing out Plymouth's illegal tobacco trade
SNIFFER dogs uncovered suspected counterfeit tobacco during an operation by Trading Standards officers and police.
Black Labrador Indy and Springer Spaniel Levi from specialist dog service firm Wagtail UK accompanied officers as they swooped on three properties in Devonport.
The dogs are just one of the weapons in the fight to cut down on contraband tobacco in the city. It was recently estimated people in Plymouth spend up to £25,000 every day on illegal tobacco, creating a cheap source for children and adults who would not otherwise be able to afford to smoke.
In one flat in Marlborough House, the team discovered 180 pouches of suspected counterfeit tobacco as well as suspected counterfeit perfume. At a nearby flat in Granby Way more tobacco was found.
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Collin Singer managing director of Wagtail and former RAF police dog handler said his firm were employed by a number of government agencies across the UK, including the UK border Agency, HM Revenue and Customs, trading standards and the police. The dogs – all rescue dogs – had recently been working the Olympics site and Wembley Stadium as well as the Farnborough and Paris Air shows.
He said: "The training is based on a reward system. When they detect something, they freeze and stare at a potential concealment. We have dogs trained to sniff out explosives, drugs, cash, tobacco as well as both live and dead bodies. There's a number of different scents the dog can detect but we have a different dog for different jobs.
"Our work with tobacco dogs has increased hugely over the last 12 months. They are still the most effective way to detect the scent.
"We act as part of the search team. We'll usually go into a premises first and point the search teams where to make a start. The dogs come into their own when its a large premises or shop. We've had finds where humans wouldn't normally detect anything, like behind false walls or false ceilings."
Richard Green, senior officer with Plymouth City Council's Trading Standards department said 180 pouches of rolling tobacco marked as "Benson and Hedges"was seized at one location and the packaging would now be analysed to determine its authenticity.
He said: "The operation was very successful. The warrants come from intelligence that we have gathered. In all three of the places we've searched we found tobacco evidence, one of which we have sufficient evidence to suggest it was being supplied. We look at this from a health perspective. Our position is that all tobacco is bad – there's not 'good' or 'bad' tobacco. It all shortens life expectancy."
Councillor Brian Vincent, cabinet member for the Environment, said: "Anyone who thinks selling a few dodgy pouches is harmless is utterly deluding themselves. Smoking is on the biggest health problems Plymouth faces."
If you have information about illegal tobacco call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.