A dog team has sniffed out thousands of pounds worth of illegal cigarettes in a sting targeting shops in west London.
Five Westminster shops have been caught by Trading Standards selling illicit products, ranging from counterfeit branded tobacco to shisha products that were not carrying the proper health warnings.
During Operation Rover, Westminster City Council’s Trading Standards service used rescue dogs Pippa and Rico, who have been specially trained to smell cigarettes and money, to detect the products.
The dogs, led by their trainer from WagTail UK, made unannounced inspections of five shops, based on reports from members of the public. They found illegal tobacco products in all of them.
One Edgware Road location had more than seven brands of illegal tobacco which were suspected to be counterfeits due to their "look-a-like UK packaging".
Altogether, the stings uncovered 8,670 cigarettes with an estimated street value of £3,989.43, shisha tobacco products, six pouches of tobacco and 109 counterfeit mobile telephone covers.
Government figures show 13 per cent of cigarettes sold in 2015/16 were found to be illegal, compared to 21 per cent of sales in 2000/01.
Westminster City Council cabinet member for public protection and licensing Ian Adams said while all tobacco is harmful, authorities had to monitor the illegal varieties to protect the public.
"If traders are willing to break duty rules they are often just as willing to sell to young people," he said.
"The search dogs, Pippa and Rico, are amazing professionals that helped Operation Rover thoroughly and quickly find every hidden tobacco product on the premises.
"Fewer people are buying illegal tobacco and fewer people are now prepared to turn a blind eye to it. People can make a real difference to help keep more illegal tobacco off the streets by reporting it. We need to keep the pressure up on those who continue to sell it."
Concerns about illicit tobacco sales can be reported to Trading Standards via the Citizen’s Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040506.