Trading standards officers from Gateshead Council have seized nearly 30,000 cigarettes, 34.1kg of rolling tobacco, 107 vapes and £2,000 in cash from two addresses in Bensham.

Working with Northumbria Police and specialist sniffer dogs as part of Operation Vienna, the officers searched the premises last week after receiving reports from the public of suspected illegal activity.

At the Bensham Euro Market convenience store on Saltwell Road they uncovered 3,440 suspected illegal cigarettes, 1.4kg of rolling tobacco and 107 vapes. Across the road at a disused barber’s shop, 25,540 cigarettes and 32.7kg of tobacco were uncovered.

Alice Wiseman, Gateshead’s director of public health, said: “Selling illegal tobacco is not a victimless crime. It makes smoking more accessible to adults and children through cheap prices and lack of regulation, which creates and maintains addiction to a substance that kills more than half of the people who use it long term. That’s one person in Gateshead roughly every 17 hours.

To add to this, many people who buy illegal tobacco simply see it as a way to save money and don’t realise that they could be funding serious international organised crime. Seizures like these disrupt supply chains and could ultimately save lives, not just here in the North East but globally.”

Operation Vienna was established to bring local authority and policing teams closer together to act on intelligence and tackle crime quickly and efficiently. Similar searches also took place in Newcastle and in total, the value of suspected illegal goods and cash seized from both areas came to around £70,000.

Inspector Kevin Ashurst from Northumbria Police said: “Operation Vienna is well embedded within the community and this activity is a prime example of what the team continues to achieve, thanks to the trust they have built up.

“By acting on the information given to them by their community, officers, in collaboration with partners, were able to seize a substantial amount of suspected illegal items.

“These items are believed to counterfeit and while the public might not see the harm they cause, we know that the proceeds of these are often invested into organised crime, and can help fund more serious offences like drug supply and even trafficking – and this is something we will not tolerate in our area.

“We will continue to work with our partners and help to take harmful and illegal items out of circulation and would ask anyone with information or concerns continues to share what they know with us.”