BUSINESSES have called for a further crackdown on illegal cigarette sellers after another huge haul was seized in Darlington.

Around 30,000 illegal cigarettes have been seized in the town in recent weeks, and tobacconists and retailers have urged further action to be taken to prevent a “damaging effect” on their profits.

Last week, Darlington Trading Standards, working jointly with the Harm Reduction Unit of Durham Police, seized more than 13,000 counterfeit cigarettes and almost 10 kilograms of hand-rolling tobacco after being tipped off by a member of the public.

This comes less than two weeks after almost 17,000 illegal cigarettes and four-and-a-half kilograms of hand-rolling tobacco were found in a store in Darlington.

Jim Humberston, owner of Durham Pipe and Tobacco Shop, said the blame should not solely lie with the sellers.

“We do lose out, but I blame the government that we are in this situation in the first place, so it is a two sided coin,” he said

“Smokers have always been punished and treated like bad people – they have to pay more tax than anyone else.

“You can’t blame them for wanting to go down that route, but it is important for everyone to obey the law.”

According to HMRC, more than 3.5 billion illicit cigarettes, and around 600 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco have been seized over the last two years alone.

Figures from the Illicit Tobacco North East Study suggest that around 1 in 10 cigarettes smoked in the North-East are now illegal.

Ailsa Rutter, Director of Fresh, the North-East’s tobacco control programme, said: “We are now calling for much tougher fines and penalties for illegal tobacco sellers as part of a national consultation being run by HMRC.

“We also need to consider whether it is time for anyone selling tobacco to require a licence, which could be removed if there is evidence of selling illegal tobacco or selling to children.”

James Lowman, chief executive of The Association of Convenience Stores, said the illicit trade in tobacco costs the exchequer over £2bn a year in lost revenue.

“While the recent seizing of tobacco in Darlington is a positive step toward tackling the illicit trade, more still needs to be done at ground level in communities across the UK to stamp this problem out altogether,” he added.

Cllr Chris McEwan, Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said: “This second haul sends a clear message that there is no hiding place for this kind of illegal activity.”