Man’s Best Friend in Plymouth to fight illegal tobacco

Scamp, the specially trained tobacco sniffer dog, joined Plymouth's fight against illegal tobacco.

Scamp, the specially trained tobacco sniffer dog, joined Plymouth’s fight against illegal tobacco.

Man’s best friend is in Plymouth to help in the fight against illegal tobacco.

Smoke Free South West has funded sniffer dogs to accompany Plymouth City Council’s Trading Standards staff in Plymouth during a week of action to mark World No Tobacco Day (31 May). The aim is to sniff out illegal cigarettes and tobacco and the specially trained tobacco detection dogs, Scamp, Pheobe and Yoyo, accompanied local officers and Councillor Brian Vincent, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment.

Cheap illegal tobacco is a priority because it helps people continue smoking who may otherwise quit. It is also easier for children to start smoking illegal tobacco as it is sold at pocket money prices.

Councillor Brian Vincent, Cabinet Member for Environment for Plymouth City Council, said: “We are delighted to welcome these specially trained dogs to Plymouth.

“Trading Standards along with Public Health colleagues in Plymouth are determined to crack down on the sale and supply of illegal tobacco which continues to be a problem across the region.

“It is one of our top priorities for action, not only because smoking remains one of the UK’s biggest causes of premature death but we also know that the availability of cheap, illegal tobacco makes it harder for people to give up smoking.”

Councillor Brian Vincent

Councillor Brian Vincent

A recent survey shows that the public in the region are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of illegal tobacco. Nearly two thirds of adults (62%) agree that illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to smoke, whilst eight out of ten (85%) agree that it puts children at risk and 63% agree that it brings crime in to local communities.

Andrea Dickens, deputy director of Smokefree South West, says: “All tobacco is harmful, but illegal tobacco poses an additional threat to our children and communities. It is becoming a sophisticated and highly organised crime with criminals using increasingly unusual ways of concealing the product from officers.

“People are often on the hunt for a bargain, but illegal tobacco is not a gamble worth taking, as children who start to smoke at a young age will often carry on for many years, so by accepting illegal tobacco into our shops and onto our streets we are putting lives at risk and communities in danger.

“Nearly a quarter of smokers in the South West buy illegal tobacco and we need public support to help to reduce this figure by reporting any information they have, no matter how small they think it is.

“Illegal tobacco can be most easily recognised if it’s cheap. An £8 packet for less than half the price, or a pack or pouch with foreign health warnings is illegal. Anyone who will sell that won’t ask questions about age, and might well have even more dangerous things to sell.

Scamp is one of three sniffer dogs being funded by Smoke Free South West during a week of activities to mark World No Tobacco Day.

Scamp is one of three sniffer dogs being funded by Smoke Free South West during a week of activities to mark World No Tobacco Day.

“If you see it, please report it, this isn’t about some ‘harmless bootlegging’, it’s about keeping criminals out of your neighbourhood and children and young people safe from harm and a potentially deadly habit.

“Businesses should be aware that if illegal tobacco is being sold on their premises you are liable to a range of fines that could strip you of your livelihood. Trading Standards can help them meet responsibilities and educate staff who may be targeted by criminals.

“We will continue to act on the information we receive and bring to justice those we suspect of selling illegal tobacco.”

The sale of illegal tobacco is a criminal offence. Anyone wishing to report the selling of illegal tobacco can report anonymously online to Trading Standards at or call HMRC on 0800 595 000.

The South West campaign is part of the wider Tackling Illegal Tobacco Programme which draws together local authorities in the South West with HMRC, Trading Standards, police forces, Scambusters and other key partners to tackle this issue.

More information about the campaign is available here.