In what is believed to be the first conviction of its kind in the Yorkshire and Humber region, and one of only a handful of such convictions nationwide, Martins Klintsons, of Convamore Road, Grimsby, has pleaded guilty after Trading Standards officers discovered a haul of illegal products at a Cleethorpes shop.
The 43-year-old appeared at Grimsby Magistrates’ Court on 18 May 2023 facing seven charges under the Trade Marks Act 1994. He pleaded guilty to all charges.
The factory worker, who managed A-Z Booze in St Peter’s Avenue, has been fined a total of £1,690 after 674 illegal disposable vape bars, 3,720 illegal cigarettes (186 packs) and 53 x 50g pouches of illegal hand rolling tobacco were found to be on sale.
The unannounced visit was carried out on 5 October 2022 by North East Lincolnshire Council’s Trading Standards and Humberside Police Community Team.
Klintsons faced seven charges under the Trade Marks Act 1994 relating to counterfeit tobacco products: two offences under the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulation 2015; two offences under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2015 (which were concerned with the packaging of the tobacco products and their failure to display the correct health warnings); and five additional offences relating to the disposable vaping bars seized from the premises having been found on display for sale.
A number of the cigarettes and pouches of tobacco were subsequently found to be counterfeit copies of genuine brands, and the vaping bars were all found to have internal reservoirs well in excess of the 2ml legal limit, with them all having between 10 and 14ml of nicotine liquid. Some of the seized vaping bars also contained nicotine liquid at a strength two and a half times the legal limit, having a nicotine content of five per cent when the legal maximum is two per cent. These devices were also found to be intended for the American market and did not bear the warnings, adequate labelling and traceability information required by UK law.
At the time of the inspection, Klintsons was the business manager, having been appointed to run the business on behalf of the owner who worked away and rarely visited the premises. When interviewed by Trading Standards officers, he admitted he had purchased the illegal vapes, cigarettes and tobacco to sell in the shop without informing his employer. He said that he did this in order to supplement his wages and make extra money to support his growing family.
Klintsons was sentenced to a financial penalty totalling £1,690, with fines of £850, court costs of £500 and a victim surcharge of £340.
Upon sentencing, District Judge Curtis said that ‘these types of offences are serious and will always be treated as such by the courts’. The judge made it clear he had imposed a less serious sentence as he was sentencing an individual who was the manager of the business for a relatively short time, received none of the profits, and was not the owner or director of the company.
District Judge Curtis considered the means of the defendant to pay any financial penalty and considered the impact it would have on his family. He made it clear that he was not making an example of the defendant but was sending a clear message to others who work in these outlets and those who secure enormous profits as a consequence. The judge expressed that if he was sentencing the owner or director of the company, the fine would have been significantly higher.
The street value of all of the cigarettes and tobacco goods that were seized at the inspection, based upon current HMRC figures, would be £1,513, with a legitimate value of £3,842.90.
The value of the counterfeit goods, using the same calculation, would be a street value of £703 and a legitimate value of £1,699.
The seized disposable vaping devices, which are illegal in the UK due to being over legal UK limits, currently being sold at approximately £12 per unit, total a value of approximately £8,088.
It should be noted that whilst these items are illegal to sell in the UK, they are being widely marketed and sold by unscrupulous wholesale suppliers and are being found in small retail outlets throughout the country with thousands of such goods being seized by Trading Standards officers, with almost 5,000 devices being seized in North East Lincolnshire in the last year alone.
Councillor Ron Shepherd, portfolio holder for safer and stronger communities, said: “I am very pleased with this result and proud to see our Trading Standards team at the forefront of dealing with the current craze for illegal vaping.
“This case shows that the same people who are peddling illegal tobacco are behind the ever-increasing trade in illegal disposable vape bars. All tobacco is harmful, but illegal tobacco tends to be priced much cheaper, making it easier for children to start smoking and get hooked with the same applying to the oversized, illegal vape bars such as the ELUX Legend 3,500 and the R&M Tornado range, which are clearly marketed towards children and young people.
“The illicit tobacco and vape trade also has strong links to organised crime and criminal gangs, so those buying these products are often pouring money into things like people smuggling, drug dealing, money laundering and even terrorism.
“Even small-time local sellers are at the end of a long criminal chain – selling illegal tobacco and vapes is a crime.
“People can make a real difference to help keep more illegal tobacco off the streets by reporting it. We need to keep the pressure up on those who continue to sell it.”
Report any suspicions to Trading Standards on tr[email protected] or call (01472) 326299, option 3.
Since the start of the council’s illicit tobacco investigations under Operation Nightshade, and the latest joint Operation CeCe between National Trading Standards and HMRC, almost two million illegal cigarettes and more than a tonne of illegal tobacco have been removed from the streets of North East Lincolnshire.