Campaign aims to stub out illicit tobacco and booze trade in Blackpool
A major crackdown has been launched in Blackpool on illegal booze and tobacco.
And members of the public are being urged to shop rogue traders whose actions are causing harm to residents and the economy.
The See It Stop It campaign comes just a week after Blackpool Council Trading Standards staff and police seized half a million pounds worth of illicit goods from two premises in one of the most deprived areas of the resort.
Full details are being withheld while a prosecution is ongoing, but bosses say it is the tip of the iceberg.
They say that fake and smuggled tobacco and alcohol is causing major health problems in Blackpool, hitting the most vulnerable in society.
The appeal for people to phone in with information on rogue traders and those selling booze, tobacco and e-cigarrettes to under-aged people also comes as fears over the increase in young people using e-cigs in the resort.
Coun Amy Cross, Blackpool Council’s cabinet minister for health and adult services, said: “The sale of e-cigarettes to the young and vulnerable in the resort is on the rise and we need to do all we can to combat this.”
Mark Marshall, licencing enforcement manager at Blackpool Council said they were not simply being kill-joys as the illicit trade had links to criminal gangs and could put legitimate shopkeepers out of business, damaging Blackpool’s economy.
He said: “This is not an innocent bit of rule bending. Counterfeiters often have links to organised crime and there has been evidence of illegal immigrants being exploited selling these things for £2 an hour working 17 hours a day.”
He said crooks could expect fines or jail and proceeds of crimes action which has in the past seen up to £50,000 taken off some offenders to take away the profits of their crime.
Sgt Helen Parkinson, licencing sergeant for Lancashire Police, said anything could be going into the fake cigarettes and alcohol made by criminals, which could pose a serious risk to people's health.
She said: “One of the big problems is not knowing what the contents of these drinks are. Some bottles of ‘vodka’ have been known to contain methanol, anti-freeze and even paint stripper.”
She added that the booze fuelled anti-social behaviour which cost the emergency services time and money.
"It puts a huge strain on the emergency services dealing with the consequences and they are already under pressure. The most vulnerable in society are being put at risk by the actions of the few."
She said alcohol was linked to many instances of anti-social behaviour and disruption in the resort. She also said the rogue traders were undercutting legitimate traders who were already having to work long hours to make their businesses work and losing customers to criminals was the last thing they needed.
Dr Arif Rajpura, the council’s director of public health said: “There is a growing problem with the sales of illegal tobacco and alcohol in Blackpool. It completely undermines what we are trying to do to improve people’s health in the area.
"Our aim is to make people more aware of the sales of illegal tobacco and alcohol in the town and, with their help, reduce this and bring the people who sell this to justice."
He said with packets of 20 illicit cigarettes selling for £4 rather than up to £10 which a real packet costs, it is encouraging smoking, particularly with the young.
And he said they were also looking to crack down to on traders selling e-cigarettes to young people. "People think they are not harmful but they contain nicotine which is addictive."
Anyone who suspects a trader may be selling fake items or items which have been imported without paying duty on them can contact a hotline 01253 478375 or email [email protected]