An operation to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco in North Wales uncovered more than 1.6 million cigarettes, as well as seizures of suspect hand-rolling tobacco alcohol.

Around 40 officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), with support from North Wales Police, UK Border Agency, and Flintshire, Wrexham, Conwy and Denbingshire Trading Standards officers, visited 55 retail premises, private addresses and self-storage units on 14, 15 and 16 July.

The visits, as part of HMRC’s Tobacco Taskforce activity, led to tobacco and alcohol products being seized at 15 locations. These included:

• 1,646,000 cigarettes, with a potential £545,700 duty and VAT evaded

• 700 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco, with a potential £170,800 duty and VAT evaded

• 3,000 litres of alcohol, with a potential £38,600 duty and VAT evaded

Colin Spinks, assistant director, criminal investigation, HMRC, said: “The sale of illegal tobacco and alcohol will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2bn a year, and the sale of illicit alcohol which costs the UK around £1bn per year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.

“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco or alcohol to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 595000.”

Superintendent Sacha Hatchett of North Wales Police said: “The large-scale seizures have shown this criminal activity to be big, lucrative business for some individuals who flout the law.

“The co-ordinated operation across Wrexham, Flintshire, Denbighshire and Conwy demonstrates how well partner organisations can work together to tackle serious organised crime.

“I hope local communities, who we rely on for information and intelligence, are reassured by the firm action we have taken.”

Kevin Jones, chair of the North Wales Heads of Trading Standards, said: “The widespread availability of cheap, illegal tobacco in our communities poses a major threat to health. Around 11,000 children become addicted in Wales every year (that’s a classroom full each day) before they are even old enough to be legally sold tobacco.

“The results achieved in this joint agency operation, led by HMRC, are incredibly encouraging and sends a clear message that we are committed to working together to tackle illegal tobacco and alcohol.”