On 8 May 2018, officers from Waltham Forest Trading Standards joined colleagues from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in an operation that seized 11,200 various branded cigarettes and 1.68kg various branded rolling tobacco from a 98p Plus Extra shop on Lea Bridge Road in Leyton.
The seized products violated UK law requirements for labelling and packaging tobacco products.
In a further inspection on 19 July 2018, officers from Waltham Forest Trading Standards found an additional 30,020 various branded cigarettes and 3.65kg of foreign rolling tobacco which were subsequently seized for violating UK Tobacco Products Regulations.
On 13 June 2019, Mr Salim Ahmed, director of Bismillah London Ltd, the company owning the shop, pleaded guilty at Thames Magistrates court to ten charges brought by Waltham Forest Trading Standards for the sale of illicit tobacco products.
In a previous interview, he had stated that he had received the tobacco from an unknown Eastern European man who had persuaded him to sell it to boost his profit margins and that he had not inspected the cigarettes purchased. Additionally, he stated that there were no records of the number of tobacco products he had sold and that he wasn’t aware of the law relating to the labelling and packaging of tobacco products.
The illicit tobacco trade has strong links with organised crime and criminal gangs. Many of the people smuggling, distributing and selling illicit tobacco are involved in drug dealing, money laundering and people trafficking.
Cllr Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for the Environment at Waltham Forest Council, said: “We’re committed to help every resident in Waltham Forest make the most of their life chances. This also mean protecting them from the harms of legal and illicit tobacco.
“People who sell illegal tobacco do not care who they sell it to. Children and young smokers are often targeted by these criminals, making it easier for them to get hooked on smoking from a young age.
“Retailers should always ensure they comply with the UK regulations for tobacco products, in order not to incur expensive fines. However it is disappointing that the judge in this case decided to hand out such paltry fines and costs. If we are serious about eradicating such criminal activity then we need tougher fines and penalties to be laid at those involved, to ensure that crime does not pay.”
Both Bismillah London Ltd, as well as Mr Ahmed received fines of £2,600, with the addition of £500 costs and £33 victim surcharged to be paid by both the director and the company.
The seized products were imported without paying tax and violated UK Regulations on labelling and packaging for Tobacco and Related Products.