ASH Wales welcomes the prosecution of an illegal tobacco seller who advertised products on Facebook and says it should send a strong message to others hoping to make money from this deadly illicit trade.
Matthew Rawsthorne of Swallow Drive, Newtown, was prosecuted by Powys County Council’s Trading Standards Service as part of Operation Dale, an ongoing crackdown on the supply of illegal tobacco in the county.
At Llandrindod Wells Magistrates Court on Wednesday, November 7, magistrates heard that officers had seized a large quantity of illegal tobacco from the defendant’s home in November 2017. Samples of the tobacco were tested by Trading Standards and found to contain excessive levels of cadmium, a heavy metal which causes increased health risks.
Magistrates also heard that Rawsthorne used Facebook to advertise his illicit tobacco products. They were informed that trademark holders confirmed that the tobacco was counterfeit and that it did not comply with the appropriate legislation in terms of labelling requirements and the necessary safety warnings were absent. A warrant was executed at the then home of Rawsthorne and counterfeit pouches of Cutters Choice and Golden Virginia product with a street value of £10,000 were found.
Rawsthorne pleaded guilty to two offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994 and four offences under the Tobacco related Product Regulations 2016 – two for not proving the adequate health warns and two for the wording not being in English as required by the regulations.
In sentencing Rawsthorne, magistrates handed down a 12-month community order, and ordered him to carry out 200 hours of unpaid community work. He was also ordered to pay full costs of £4,670 and a £85 victim surcharge.
Across Wales, illegal tobacco continues to undermine key measures aimed at reducing smoking prevalence, including taxation, labelling, age restrictions on sales and point of sale display bans. It is sold so cheaply that is easily available to those who would not otherwise be able to afford it, including children.
Currently illegal tobacco makes up 15% of tobacco sales in Wales and 45% of smokers in Wales have been offered illegal tobacco products. The average price of a pack of 20 illegal cigarettes is just £4.
ASH Wales is leading the campaign to tackle illegal tobacco in Wales and in 2014, we led the first pan-Wales research project into the illegal tobacco market in Wales. We then went on to support the launch of the Welsh Government’s illicit tobacco programme.
Suzanne Cass, Chief Executive Officer of ASH Wales, said: “We applaud the efforts of all those involved in this successful prosecution and hope this sends a message to others that this activity will not be tolerated.
“Illegal tobacco currently makes up 15% of all tobacco sales in Wales – the highest level in the UK – and continues to undermine efforts to tackle smoking prevalence.
“Criminals sell illegal tobacco at pocket money prices to those who would not otherwise be able to afford it, disregarding all tobacco control measures.
“It represents a major threat to the health of the nation greatly increasing the numbers of those at risk of developing smoking related conditions, which currently contribute to 5,388 deaths and 26,489 hospital admissions a year in Wales.
“This is a crime that threatens lives across Wales and resources must be directed towards helping to stamp it out.”
Since it launched two years ago, Operation Date has had a major impact on the illegal tobacco market in Powys. Describing its achievements so far, Clive Jones, the council’s Professional Lead for Trading Standards, Community safety and Emergency Planning said:
“Over the past two years we have seized nearly 50,000 illegal cigarettes and 50kg of illegal tobacco as part of our overarching operation on illicit products, named Operation Date.
“The supply of illegal tobacco bypasses government tobacco control measures, such as not selling tobacco to children and availability is increasing. This makes it more likely that youngsters will start smoking and we find that counterfeit products often contain high levels of heavy metals such as cadmium.
“Our surveillance on illegal activity involving counterfeit products of any variety is increasing and we ask users of auction sites or any person offered suspected counterfeit goods to be vigilant and to warn us of any suspicious sellers through our contact points. Alternatively ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. This action would not have been possible without the support of Dyfed Powys Police and we wish to thank officers from the road policing team and intelligence units.”
Cllr James Evans, Cabinet Portfolio Holder with responsibility for Trading Standards, went on to say that the council is working to raise awareness among smokers of the harm caused by the supply of illegal tobacco.
“Combating the supply of counterfeit and illegal tobacco is one of the priorities of our Trading Standards Service. We are looking to increase the understanding of the impact it has amongst smokers and local communities when shadow activities occur with illicit products.
“This should also serve as a warning to those involved in the supply and sale of illegal tobacco that we will take the appropriate action with partners that is necessary to combat this.”
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