Disrupt the supply of illicit tobacco
Work Areas

Local activity to disrupt the supply of illicit tobacco

Preventing the sale of illegal tobacco protects young people and adults from a habit that is proven to damage health. The illicit tobacco trade also impacts legitimate businesses trying to operate honestly, and this hits tax revenues to the tune of about £2 billion every year. This is a significant sum of money that could potentially be used to benefit public health.

A new partnership from January 2021

Combatting the illegal tobacco trade has always relied on strong partnership working across multiple agencies. From January 2021, we are pleased to be able to pool the significant expertise between Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and National Trading Standards (NTS) to make an even bigger dent in this illicit trade. At a local level, this work will build on the work that local authorities have been doing to disrupt the sale of illegal tobacco for many years. Operation CeCe covers England and Wales and will run for 15 months.

Increasing tobacco prices

We know that increasing tobacco prices is the number one lever to encourage smokers to quit and discourage young people, who tend to have less disposable income, from starting to smoke. The illegal trade undermines this. Our operation will therefore focus on cutting off supplies - from the streets, right to the top of the chain. This will make it harder for the criminals and protect legitimate businesses.

We look forward to seeing the results of this important collaboration. As more intelligence is shared and acted upon, together we can help to stamp out this illegal trade. 

A targeted approach for maximum disruption

Operation CeCe will disrupt everyone involved in the trade of illegal tobacco, from retailers to those masterminding fraudulent operations. The focus for this arrangement is England and Wales; other arrangements are being made for Scotland and N. Ireland. We have split this operationally into three tiers, outlined below.

Case study: Disrupting the West Midlands’ illegal tobacco trade

A previous joint operation led to more than one million illegal cigarettes and 23 kilos of illegal tobacco being seized, as well as cash totalling £12,000. Officers visited 22 retail premises and 17 self-storage units during an operation to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco in Birmingham and Smethwick. The revenue lost to the UK exchequer would have been £260,000 had the seized tobacco gone on sale. Co-ordinated action through Operation CeCe will help disrupt the illegal tobacco trade.

Improved intelligence sharing

A key benefit of this joint initiative is that we will have the opportunity to share intelligence more effectively, with the aim of improving the outcomes of our targeted operations.

For instance, from January 2021, National Trading Standards will start to report tobacco pack prices quarterly (previously annually). This will provide more timely information on street-level retail activity to inform wider operations.

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