A TOTAL of 29,000 counterfeit, or illegally imported, cigarettes were found in Thurrock.

A two day operation saw Trading Standards officers, aided by sniffer dogs, seize the cigarettes from 16 shops across Grays, Little Thurrock and Tilbury.

In many instances, the cigarettes had been hidden away in secret compartments in ceilings and walls.

A series of inspections were taken out at tobacconists last week.

Search teams were accompanied by specially-trained dogs during the operation.

A spokesperson for Thurrock Council said: “The sale of both counterfeit and non-duty paid tobacco generate significant income for organised criminal gangs.

“This in turn helps to fund other criminal activities.

“As well as filling the coffers of criminal gangs counterfeit cigarettes can be extremely dangerous; there are no guarantees about the quality of tobacco or even what is in them.

“We will continue to work to eradicate the sale of counterfeit and illegally smuggled tobacco from the shops of Thurrock.

“The sale of both counterfeit and non-duty paid tobacco feeds the coffers of criminals, is associated with criminal gangs involved with major crime and cheats the public purse.

“Such tobacco is also extremely dangerous and members of the public do not know what is in the product they are smoking, previous tests have shown that rat poison and faeces were contained in such tobacco.”

Members of the public are encouraged to report the sale of illicit tobacco to Trading Standards by calling 03454 040 506.