Thousands of illegal cigarettes have been seized during a series of raids across North Tyneside.
Raids were carried out at five mini markets on Monday in response to evidence gathered about the premises.
Officers from Northumbria Police, with two specialist sniffer dogs, were joined by North Tyneside Council’s Trading Standards team in the joint operation.
The dogs – Yo-Yo and Scamp – are trained to sniff out tobacco which has been hidden in ceilings, behind panels and under floorboards.
Four of the premises were found not to be breaking the law, however 4,800 illegal cigarettes – worth around £2,000 – were seized from a shop in the Wallsend area.
The cigarettes did not show the required information, such as whether the tobacco was ‘Duty Paid’ or the required health warnings. Some of the cigarettes were also suspected of being counterfeit.
Yo-Yo found illegal cigarettes in a hold-all and a handbag on the floor behind the premises’ counter and in a counter drawer, which also contained a quantity of cash. The money was seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
The dog then sniffed out two sleeves of cigarette packs, each containing 200 illegal cigarettes that were hidden in the arms of a jacket hanging in a back room.
Coun John Harrison, cabinet member for Housing and Transport, said: “I welcome this joint operation involving our Trading Standards team and the police.
“These criminal activities severely damage the local economy and legitimate traders by gaining a competitive advantage at their expense, and taking trade away from genuine hard-working businesses.
“As it becomes harder for under 18s to buy from legitimate sources, illegal tobacco trading creates a cheap source that fuels smoking by young people, giving them habits that put their health at risk into adulthood.”
Chief Inspector John Barnes for Northern Area Command said: “This was a joint operation with one of our partner agencies and shows how effective partnership working is.
“The sale of illegal cigarettes costs the public purse billions each year in unpaid duty, not to mention the clear health risks associated with smoking which will be felt by young people who these items are regularly sold to.
“We will continue to act on intelligence and any information received to put a stop to illegal activities affecting our communities and to ensure those responsible for it are dealt with appropriately.
“Anyone who has any concerns in their neighbourhood should speak to their local officers.”
The operation was fully supported by North Tyneside’s Director of Public Health.
North Tyneside Council’s Trading Standards service is delivered on behalf of the local authority by its partner Capita.