On the 18th of May 2023, Wibsey Local Ltd., a business located on High Street Wibsey, appeared before Bradford Magistrates Court to address charges brought by the West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service (WYTSS). The company was accused of selling counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco, as well as cigarettes and tobacco without plain packaging or English health warnings. Additionally, illegal disposable electronic cigarettes were found to have a tank capacity exceeding 2 ml and a nicotine strength greater than 20 mg/ml, which violates established regulations.
During the court proceedings, Mr. Muhammad Nabaaz, the director of Wibsey Local Ltd., pleaded guilty to the offences under the Trademarks Act 1994, the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015, and The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016. As a result, the company was fined £8,000, with the magistrates considering the guilty plea in determining the penalty. In addition, the company was ordered to pay a £190 surcharge and £5,000 in costs. Mr. Muhammad Nabaaz is expected to receive sentencing at a later date following a report from the Probation Service.
The company, Wibsey Local Ltd., was already known to the Trading Standards Service, as the organisation had received complaints about the premises selling cheap and illicit tobacco. In November 2021, officers from WYTSS Cheap and Illicit Tobacco Team visited Wibsey Local after receiving reports of illegal tobacco being sold. The inspection resulted in the seizure of 365 packs of illegal tobacco, 113 packs of hand-rolling tobacco, and 2,000 illegal disposable electronic cigarettes. These electronic cigarettes were found to have a capacity exceeding 2 ml and a nicotine concentration above the permissible limit of 20 mg/ml.
Despite declining the opportunity for a formal interview, Wibsey Local Ltd. acknowledged their guilt, fully aware that the cigarettes and tobacco they sold were illegal. The company had not taken appropriate measures to ensure the legality of the e-cigarettes being offered for sale, resulting in their guilty plea for those offences as well.
Aiming to combat the illicit tobacco trade and promote better health, the Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Programme, funded by the five West Yorkshire Public Health departments, has been actively involved in educating the public and investigating traders involved in the supply of cheap and illicit tobacco. The program utilises multi-agency enforcement and community marketing campaigns to tackle the issues associated with the illicit trade, aiming to eliminate it altogether.
To date, the program has successfully removed over 10 million illicit cigarettes and 3 tonnes of illicit hand-rolling tobacco from the streets of West Yorkshire. With upcoming inspections in the following weeks, these figures are expected to rise. Extensive training sessions have been conducted, involving thousands of members of the public and hundreds of frontline professionals, to raise awareness about the dangers and broader criminality associated with the supply of illicit tobacco.
David Strover, Trading Standards Manager of the Business Services Team, emphasised the negative impacts of the illicit trade of tobacco products, including adverse health effects, economic losses for the government, and the facilitation of underage smoking and exploitation of financially burdened families. Strover expressed satisfaction with the significant fine imposed on Wibsey Local Ltd. by the court.
Councillor Sue Duffy, Deputy Chair of the West Yorkshire Joint Services Committee responsible for overseeing the work of Trading Standards, emphasised that tobacco control legislation exists to mitigate the harm caused by such products. Duffy reassured the public that shops disregarding laws pertaining to illicit vapes and tobacco will be thoroughly investigated.
Consumers wishing to report traders selling cheap and illicit tobacco or illegal vapes are encouraged to contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline anonymously at 0808 223 1133.