A shopkeeper was caught allegedly hiding illegal tobacco in Special K cereal boxes, during a sweep by Medway Trading Standards and Kent Police. Three retailers were found with suspected illicit cigarettes hidden in their stores during the raids using sniffer dogs – including in specially installed secret compartments.

In the first operation of its type carried out in Medway, a dog detective agency was used to catch people suspected of selling the contraband. Three sniffer dogs were hired and a number of premises were searched. The shops are all in Medway, but cannot be named for legal reasons. In total, 225 packets of suspected illegal tobacco, containing 4,500 cigarettes, were discovered. In one store, cigarettes were found apparently hidden in a secret compartment built into the shop counter and in another they were found in the back of wall shelving. The officers found in one store that large fruit juice boxes and cartons of Kellogg’s Special K cereal on the shop shelves had been emptied. Rolling tobacco and cigarettes were hidden inside instead.

Cllr Peter Hicks, the Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Customer Contact, said: “I would like to congratulate our trading standards officers who targeted suspected illegal tobacco suppliers in these successful raids. “We are finding that those who sell illegal tobacco are using much more sophisticated and elaborate means to conceal their contraband. Using sniffer dogs is a very useful way to detect them.

“While all tobacco is harmful, illegal tobacco is completely unregulated and levels of tar, nicotine and other chemicals can be much higher than those found in legal tobacco. “In addition, if unscrupulous traders are prepared to sell illegal tobacco they may also more likely to sell those cigarettes to children and young people “I think it is also important to state that if you buy illicit cigarettes, you are putting money into the pockets of the criminal gangs that produce them and helping finance other criminal activity.”

Medway Council went out with the sniffer dogs at the end of May and plans to use them again to target more shops and other business premises in the coming months.