Sales of smuggled cigarettes in Blackpool "too lucrative to give up"

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A warning has been sent to stores in Blackpool selling illegal cigarettes after town hall bosses stripped a trader of his alcohol licence.

Rochdi Soltari was punished after trading standards officers seized counterfeit and smuggled tobacco from his off licence at 27a Dickson Road on two occasions.

The Off Licence has lost its licence

The Off Licence has lost its licence

A Blackpool Council licensing hearing was told a criminal investigation was underway and Mr Soltari was not considered a suitable person to hold a liquor licence.

The panel agreed to revoke the licence which permitted the sale of alcohol between 7am and 11pm daily.

Panel chairman Coun Adrian Hutton said: "The decision was made bearing in mind this was twice you have been caught with illegal cigarettes.

"Whether they are smuggled or counterfeit is of high concern to the committee.

"You are avoiding paying duty which is a requirement in this country, and if the cigarettes are illegal we don't know what is in them and that is a worry to us."

Trading standards officers had visited the shop in March and June of this year, and following searches of the premises boxes containing illicit tobacco were found on two occasions.

The council's trading standards and licensing manager Lee Petrak told the hearing selling smuggled cigarettes was a lucrative trade which the council needed to act strongly against by revoking the store's licence.

He said: "The incentive for selling these types of goods is obvious and income generated from this illicit trade is believed to be a source of income for organised crime."

He added: "This clearly isn't an individual incident with two seizures in a three month period.

"The general trend in my experience is that when a shop starts to deal in illicit trade, they tend not to stop.

"It's purely too lucrative to give up. The only option is to revoke the licence. These are serious matters and are being investigated."

Mr Soltari, who attended the hearing, told the panel the incidents had been "his mistake" and added: "If you give me a chance I will take it, that's your decision."

Officers' suspicions were raised because the products did not carry the correct labelling.

A packet of 20 cigarettes on which excise duty has been paid would retail on average for around £10 in the UK, but in his report Mr Petrack said "the average cost of a packet of 20 cigarettes under the counter is £3.50."

Mr Soltari has 21 days to appeal the decision.