Thousands of pounds worth of illegal cigarettes and vapes have been seized in a number of raids in the County Durham area.

Three shops and a car were investigated by Durham County Council’s Trading Standards team in a special operation, with support from the police.

In total officers seized nearly 300 packs of cigarettes, 11.5kg of hand-rolling tobacco and 535 vapes.

The legitimate market value of the goods would have been approximately £16,000.

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Durham County Council received intelligence about the shops and they worked with Durham Constabulary to carry out the raids.

Gary Carr, a representative for Durham County Council, explained how illicit traders had contacts with organised crime.

He said: "Illegal cigarettes, tobacco, and vapes have serious negative impacts on our communities.

"Not only does this attract crime to neighbourhoods and make it easier for children to access age-restricted products, it also adversely affects compliant businesses by taking away their revenue.

“The illicit trade has links to organised crime, including people trafficking and terrorism. It also takes away tax revenues that are needed to support public services.

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"Whilst we are taking significant action to crack down on the sale of illicit products, we need the public’s help and intelligence to identify places that are selling these items.

"We would encourage anyone who suspects they know about the sale of illegal products to let us know.

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"We would also appeal to consumers not to buy illicit products and think about the impact that their spending can have."

Victoria Ord, of the Bishop Auckland Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: "The team at Bishop Auckland are keen to stamp out illegal activity of this kind, and will continue to support our partner agencies, responding to concerns raised and directly impacting our communities.

“Please report suspicious activity to us via 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”