Customs officers seized almost 10,000 illegal cigarettes inspecting shops around Croydon in a combined operation with the Council.

Specialist dog teams were used to sniff out tobacco in six raids, held to coincide with a month-long push by trading standards teams across London.

The biggest seizure came at a convenience store, where 9,440 cigarettes were found hidden behind a false wall that opened electronically.

Well-known brands included Benson & Hedges, Rothmans, Pall Mall, Marlboro and Mayfair. A further 240 illegal, non duty-paid cigarettes were found at another local shop.

Your Local Guardian:

9,440 cigarettes were hidden behind a wall

Customs officers are now investigating these shops’ owners.

The four remaining stores passed the sniffer dog checks – three of these had been caught selling illegal tobacco on raids in previous years but passed these inspections.

Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for safer Croydon and communities, said: “This co-ordinated effort between council staff and HMRC is important because illegal tobacco sales damage people’s health and our economy.

“I’m especially pleased that several stores have cleaned up their operations since we last visited, and our trading standards team will continue to work to protect local people from this illegal trade.”

Anyone prosecuted and convicted of being involved in selling or supplying illegal tobacco can face penalties including up to 10 years in prison and an unlimited fine.

The offence of supplying non duty-paid cigarettes can lead to a punishment of up to seven years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Customers can spot illegal cigarettes because they often lack health warnings or are written in foreign languages.

Illegal tobacco is also often sold in unusual locations, such as pubs, private houses, ice cream vans or burger vans.

Croydon Council officers carry out frequent spot checks to see if businesses are selling tobacco illegally to underage customers, who also are at greater risk of becoming regular smokers through buying illegal tobacco that is often cheaper and more accessible.

If you suspect that tobacco you bought may be on sale illegally, report it to Citizens’ Advice on 03454 040506.