Illegal tobacco worth £25,000 seized from three local shops

H&F Council has seized 49,400 illegal cigarettes and 33.5kg of unlawful shisha tobacco from local shops.

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H&F sniffer dog at work at Vardar London in Askew Road, Shepherds Bush

Hammersmith & Fulham Council has seized 49,400 illegal cigarettes and 33.5kg of unlawful shisha tobacco from local shops.

The confiscations come as H&F successfully prosecuted three local shops for illegally selling tobacco with fines and awarded costs totalling more than £14,000. The three prosecutions relate to seizures conducted in October 2020 by H&F Trading Standards officers.

“We’re cracking down on illegal tobacco products to help protect residents and level the playing field for local law-abiding businesses,” said Cllr Rebecca Harvey, H&F’s Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion and Community Safety.

“Fighting crime is a cornerstone of our approach to building a stronger, safer and kinder borough.”

Repeat offenders

Prima Delicatessen in North End Road, Fulham, was one of three stores successfully prosecuted for selling cigarettes without paying the UK duty charge.

Both the manager Andrew Midzio, and employee, Anita Doroszewicz, 57, pleaded guilty at the City of London Magistrates Court, Wednesday 13 April 2022, to breaching tobacco regulations.

Midzio also pled guilty to breaching a licensing condition.

The cigarettes – which Doroszewicz had falsely claimed were for “personal use” – were offered to H&F test purchasers for a second time after the council had cautioned the store previously.

During a return visit from H&F officers two months later, to disprove Doroszewicz’s claim, the pair attempted to hide their law-breaking by taking “pre-orders” for the illegal cigarettes. These were later delivered to the store by Midizo.

Midizo was also prosecuted for breaching licence conditions by selling un-invoiced Polish beer, for which he could not fulfil the licence condition to provide invoices, and which were suspected to be non-UK duty paid.

This was not Prima Delicatessen’s first offence. Both members of staff were working at the store when previous seizures of unlawful alcohol and tobacco were made in 2017 and 2018. In total, Doroszewicz was required then to pay fines and costs £562 for the offences, and Midzio £3,827.

Stores selling illicit tobacco products damage the local economy and negatively impact other H&F small business owners. The tax evasion and reduced prices available to those who break the law ensure unfair financial benefits for the business, warping competition with other local stores.

W12 and W6 stores fined

Sulejman Heder, 57, the owner of Vardar’s in Askew Road, Shepherds Bush, was also convicted for stocking 185 packs of non-UK duty paid cigarettes.

Heder pleaded guilty to breaching tobacco sale regulations at the City of London Magistrates Court on Monday 8 August 2022.

He was fined £1,000 and required to pay a further £1,700 in costs and surcharges, as he had previously signed a caution for similar offences in 2018.

However, it was Ali-Reza Sheikhy-Ashrafy, 47, the director and manager of Saffron Supermarket in King Street, who was fined the largest sum for supplying non-UK duty paid cigarettes.

Sheikhy-Ashrafy pleaded guilty to breaching regulations at the City of London Magistrates Court, Wednesday 31 August 2022.

More than 2,270 packs of foreign market cigarettes and 33.5kg of illegal shisha tobacco were found and seized from the flat above his Hammersmith shop.

For this offence, Sheikhy-Ashrafy was fined £4,500 and must also pay a further £3,022.50 in costs and surcharge. Saffron Supermarket is now run by a new owner who bought the business from Mr Sheikhy-Ashrafy shortly before his sentence.

Dangerous products

H&F is committed to removing non-UK duty cigarettes off the streets because of their potential threat to life. Smoking is the most common cause of fire fatalities in London.

Counterfeit, and some foreign cigarettes, do not have the self-extinguishing properties that UK market cigarettes are required by law to include.

This legally required safety feature means that cigarettes not being actively smoked will extinguish themselves, reducing that risk of fire.

The lower quality of counterfeit cigarettes also increases the already prevalent health risks of smoking, as they are made from poor quality ingredients and not prepared in the conditions required by UK law. 

To find out more about the health impacts of smoking, visit the NHS website.

Cracking down

H&F Trading Standards officers are cracking down on the selling of illicit tobacco products.

Since April 2022 the team has seized 12,500 illegal cigarettes, almost 7kg of rolling tobacco and more than 20kg of shisha.

This has included discovering counterfeit and non-UK duty paid cigarettes and rolling tobacco concealed in a West Kensington convenience store’s ceiling cavity. 

So far, this activity has resulted in nine simple cautions, three warning letters and more than £5,000 paid in contributions to H&F enforcement costs.

Part of our efforts to keep consumers safe and reduce the selling of illicit tobacco products has also included work to remove unlawful vapes from H&F streets.

We seized a record number of illegal e-cigarettes in 2022, you can read more about our work here.

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