Yoyo the spaniel and Maggie the puppy menace the criminals
Yoyo the Cocker Spaniel might look cute but he strikes fear in to the hearts of criminals who trade illegal tobacco in Oxfordshire - and now 22 week old puppy Maggie is following in his footsteps.
Five years old Yoyo was trained from a young age to detect tobacco and help trading standards teams across the nation, including at Oxfordshire County Council, combat the menace of black market tobacco dealers.
Yoyo demonstrated his prowess at a special event in Bonn Square in Oxford to mark National No Smoking Day (March 14). Trading Standards Officers were on hand to pass on information and knowledge to the public about how to spot illegal tobacco: what the dangers are, and how to report sales.
Meanwhile Maggie the puppy, who was born in late 2017, was watching on as she embarks on her six month training period before becoming the next generation on the cute canine frontline equipped with an acute sense of smell.
What is illegal tobacco?
In simple terms illegal tobacco means any cigarettes of hand-rolling tobacco that are either counterfeit or that have been smuggled or bootlegged in to the UK.
Illegal tobacco is harmful
Cllr Judith Heathcoat, Deputy Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Many years ago it may not have been fully understood just how harmful tobacco is. Those days are long gone. Illegal tobacco is a real menace – it is sold at pocket money prices by people indulging in criminal activity to young people.
“You may think that young people being able to buy cheap cigarettes on the black market is wrong but not the crime of the century. However how would you feel if your child had been on Facebook without your knowledge talking to an adult who is clearly engaging in criminal activity?
“Quite apart from that cheap tobacco effectively keeps people smoking when they might otherwise give up partly deterred by the cost of the legal cigarettes from shops.
“This is organised crime with health implications and we’re determined to stay on the case in terms of deterring it. The sniffer dogs are lovely friendly animals but they’re also highly skilled and they are absolutely invaluable.”
Jody Kerman, Operations Manager in the county council’s Trading Standards Team, said: “Smoking remains one of the UK’s biggest causes of premature death and the availability of cheap tobacco simply helps recruit the next generation of smokers. In the end it creates pressure on the NHS, it circumvents the tax system which means less finance for public services and as a whole it is a corrosive and unwelcome influence on society.”
In the South-East, illegal tobacco had a street value of £37m and equivalent retail value of approximately £76 in 2010. This is likely to have increased substantially since.
Stuart Phillips trains Yoyo, Maggie and other sniffer dogs and they are used by trading standards teams throughout England. He said: “They’re lovely animals but they are also hard working and criminals should beware – they miss nothing!”