Dixie the sniffer dog was sent to the frontline against Aberdeen’s illegal tobacco sellers – and found 600 suspect packets while on her mission.
The Springer Spaniel was drafted in to root out those who trade in counterfeit rolling tobacco and cigarettes, with her hard work netting a substantial haul of nicotine-laced bounty.
Dixie found suspect goods in three out of the six shops she visited in Aberdeen while on her recent assignment.
The operation was to recover either cheap, counterfeit tobacco, which is usually made abroad, or packets which had been brought into the country illegally without the correct duties paid.
As Dixie got to work, she unearthed cigarettes that had either been stashed in back rooms of shops or under the counter, according to Graeme Paton, team leader at Trading Standards at Aberdeen City Council.
Work is now being done to establish the origin and authenticity of the goods and refer the three cases to the Procurator Fiscal under trademark legislation, where appropriate.
Mr Paton said: “We’ve been gathering intelligence on the illicit sale of counterfeit tobacco in the city for some time.
“This intelligence allows us to target our efforts on specific premises which on this occasion resulted in the seizure of some 600 packets of cigarettes and tobacco pouches of what is suspected to be counterfeit tobacco. It will now be examined to determine definitively whether it is counterfeit.
“As you would expect, counterfeit tobacco is usually well hidden and this is where Dixie comes in.
“She can sniff out even the smallest amount of hidden tobacco which we would have little or no chance of finding with the naked eye. Given the success of this operation, we’ll certainly be looking to work with Dixie again.”
Mr Paton said some of the packets found carried health warnings in French and German with the majority of the suspect goods found in plain brown cardboard boxes.
A 2011 investigation into Scotland’s illegal tobacco market found that the counterfeit smoking material was found to contain more than 30 times the lead levels of genuine products.
High levels of toxins, including arsenic and cadmium, were also found in the products being sold by tobacco gangs.
It is estimated that more than half all hand-rolled tobacco smoked in the UK is either fake or smuggled with no tax being paid, costing the public purse and estimated £4bn.
If counterfeit tobacco is identified, the offending shopkeeper could face up to 10 years in prison or an unlimited fine, or both, on conviction.
Dixie usually works with Stirling Council and was on secondment to Aberdeen with her handler for the operation.