IMITATION guns and illegal cigarettes were seized as part of Operation Tarko by Lancashire County Council Trading Standards, Lancashire Police and Immigration officers.

Police say between £20-30,000 of counterfeit goods and nearly 2,500 packs of illicit cigarettes were discovered as officers carried out a series of inspections at shops in Chorley, Leyland and Preston.

In one shop, the tobacco was concealed in two cupboards within a tiled wall which were opened by hidden electric switches.

The haul included packs of cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco, with some including counterfeits of recognised brands, and others on which import duty had not been paid. The seized tobacco products are estimated to be worth at least £13,000 in under-the-counter sales.

Five imitation guns, along with toys and lighters which breached safety requirements, non-compliant e-cigarettes, and £1,300 cash were also found during the operation. Items were found at five retailers, while a sixth shop was also warned over unlabelled packaged food products.

No arrests were made but investigations are continuing following the operation on Friday 6 September.

It is believed that there were four visits to retail outlets in Chorley and three had illicit tobacco, unlabelled packaged food and £1,300 worth of cash Proceeds of Crime taken from shops.

Elsewhere in Leyland officers found tobacco, five imitation guns, eight toys and lighters breaching safety requirements.

County Cllr Albert Atkinson, Lancashire County Council cabinet member with responsibility for Trading Standards, said: “Unscrupulous retailers and criminal gangs are making huge profits from the trade in illegal tobacco.

“Research has shown that the low-price of illicit tobacco makes it more easily available to young people and undermines efforts to reduce smoking rates, and improve people’s health.

“The sale and manufacture of illegal tobacco also has a serious impact on legitimate businesses, and is something we’re determined to tackle.”

PC Mike Payne said: “It was a multi-agency investigation at retail outlets in Chorley visiting to newsagents in the area.

“We seized between £20-30,000 worth of counterfeit goods.

“This is a danger to the public and we do not know the ingredients of them or the quality control of the tobacco.

“It is important to protect the public by getting them off the streets and stop them smoking or inhaling dangerous toxins.”

Concerned residents are advised to report all illicit tobacco sales and intelligence to the Citizens Advice Consumer helpline 03454 040506.