TWO people have been arrested and more than 800,000 cigarettes seized during an 11-day Customs and Excise operation in the North-East.

Officials have hailed the raids as a major success and have warned that there are more to come in the future.

The operation started on October 1 and finished on Tuesday. It targeted shops and homes throughout the region, as well as Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley airports.

More than 800,000 cigarettes were seized, plus 140 kilos of hand rolling tobacco, 28 kilos of prohibited foodstuffs and 22 counterfeit watches.

Other items seized included cannabis, a cannabis grinder, seven offensive weapons and a car.

Two people arrested have now been released on bail.

Fred Simmons, head of detection for Customs and Excise in the North-East, said: "These latest operations have again been very successful and demonstrate our ability to target those involved in the smuggling and distribution of illicit goods, and our commitment to tackling this problem. Further operations are planned for the future."

In total, 211,196 cigarettes were seized from houses and shops in Tyne and Wear and north Durham, 102,600 from Durham Tees Valley Airport, 484,770 from Newcastle Airport and 6,400 from North Shields International ferry terminal.

Six kilos of hand rolling tobacco was seized from the ferry terminal, 99.71 kilos from houses and shops in Tyne and Wear and north Durham and 35.25 kilos from Newcastle Airport.

In August, the Tobacco Alliance, which represents 19,000 shopkeepers nationwide, warned that more than a quarter of retailers in the North-East were considering closing their shops because of the impact of smuggling on their businesses.

Research found that on average, shops were losing £1,000 a week in sales and that 25 per cent have been forced to make staff redundant.

Darlington retailer John Abbott, who is the North-East representative for the Tobacco Alliance, said the operation was good news for the region.

But he warned that it was not tackling the root of the problem.

He said they welcomed the work being done by the customs officers.

"This means there will be more legitimate sales through legitimate businesses and greater revenue for the Government," he said.

"However we actually need to have the tax lowered so we are competing with our European partners on a level playing field.

"The Government needs to produce a level of tax where it makes it non-viable for people to go abroad and attempt to smuggle cigarettes back for retail."