ILLEGAL tobacco and counterfeit cigarettes worth about £5,500 have been seized from shops in Gloucester and Cheltenham.

The operation involving Gloucestershire County Council's Trading Standards team and Gloucestershire Police uncovered more than 9.5kg of hand rolling tobacco and 792 packets of cigarettes.

The illegal products were seized with the help of a trained police dog during opening hours on Friday 25th July and both shops involved were staffed at the time.

The shopkeepers and employees will now be formally interviewed by trading standards officers.

In Gloucester the illegal tobacco was kept on a person inside the shop and in a vehicle parked nearby.

In Cheltenham, tobacco was concealed in an elaborate sliding shelf mechanism in a recess that stretched the length of the till. The illegal tobacco was removed from the premises and will be destroyed.

Eddie Coventry, head of Gloucestershire County Council's trading standards, said: "Discovering £5,500 worth of illegal tobacco and counterfeit cigarettes is a significant find and we are happy that these have now been taken off the streets and destroyed.

"We encourage consumers to continue to report shops selling illegal tobacco because their valuable information can significantly help our investigations.

"We will remain vigilant and continue to take action to stop this criminal activity, which takes trade away from legitimate businesses in the county."

Cllr Will Windsor-Clive, cabinet member for trading standards, said: "Counterfeit tobacco products can put people's health at risk and we will keep working hard to ensure that we put out the strong message that this activity will not be tolerated in Gloucestershire."

Gloucestershire County Council will be working with Smokefree South West on a campaign to encourage fewer people to buy illegal tobacco and more people to report it.

Trained staff will be talking to the public at a roadshow in Eastgate Shopping Centre, Gloucester between 10am and 5pm on Thursday 7th, Friday 8th and Saturday 9th August.

Visitors will also meet Phoebe and Scamp, two tobacco detection spaniels from specialist search dog services, B.W.Y. Canine, who will be giving demonstrations on Friday 8th August. Between them, they have sniffed out well over half a million pounds worth of illegal tobacco.