THOUSANDS of illegal cigarettes have been seized following a series of spot-checks at shops across the borough.

The inspections, carried out by enforcement officers with a specialist sniffer dog, found 14,480 unlawful cigarettes and 153 pouches of illicit tobacco.

Items were discovered stashed away in places including holdalls with specially-constructed hidden compartments and, in one case, a suitcase inside a shop’s wheelie bin.

Bolton Council will now pursue prosecutions against four retailers as a result of the checks, as well as reviewing their licences.

Cllr Debbie Newall, council cabinet member for adult social care and health, said the sale of the illegitimate products was damaging in a number of ways.

She said: “Illegal cigarettes are sold at low cost, often to young children, and represent a significant risk to public health.

“By avoiding excise duty, these offenders are also depriving public services valuable source of income.

“Buying or selling illegal cigarettes is not a victimless crime and consumers should think long and hard before knowingly purchasing these products.”

Illicit tobacco includes either counterfeit products manufactured illegally, or cigarettes smuggled into the UK in order to avoid excise duty.

Council bosses say it poses a serious risk to public health, denies tax revenue to fund vital public services and places legitimate retailers at an unfair disadvantage.

Studies have also shown that the availability of lower cost illicit tobacco also acts a disincentive for those considering giving up smoking.

And academic research into the black market in illegal tobacco has found the supply is linked to international criminal gangs and the funding of terrorism.