FAKE fags are being sold in Oxford, the County Council have warned.

Labelling it a 'brazen display and sale of fake cigarettes' Oxfordshire County Council's Trading Standards team said the practice was a 'public health menace'.

The organisation has seized a batch of counterfeit Marlboros on sale alongside legitimate brands at full price in Oxford.

Officers say the culprit was 'a city centre convenience store'.

Traditionally illegal tobacco products are foreign labelled brands, sold under the counter at discounted rates, the council said.

The recent seizure is the first time it has recovered fully-priced counterfeits from an otherwise legitimate tobacco seller.

Following the swoop, the Trading Standards team said it was 'stepping up its war against fakes'.

The Oxford Times: These packets of Marlboro Gold cigarettes look like the real thing but each packet should have unique code. If you see the identical code on two or more packets, it's highly likely they are counterfeit.These packets of Marlboro Gold cigarettes look like the real thing but each packet should have unique code. If you see the identical code on two or more packets, it's highly likely they are counterfeit.

Jody Kerman, Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards Operations Manager, said: “We can all play a part in spotting and reporting counterfeit cigarettes.

The Oxford Times: Jody KermanJody Kerman

The Trading Standards team inspected 1,400 storage lockers in a day as part of a joint operation with six other local authorities which seized nearly £250,000 worth of counterfeit tobacco products, class A drugs and cannabis across the South East.

Councillor Judith Heathcoat, the County Council’s cabinet member for Community Safety, said: “There’s no safe cigarette, but these counterfeits are a public health menace, deviously disguised as legitimate.

“The best thing you can do to protect your wellbeing is choose not to smoke. However, for anyone struggling to ‘kick the habit’, it’s appalling that you are being exploited by organised criminals; duping traders and the public by peddling these counterfeits.

“The packets we discovered in Oxford were being sold at £12.50 rather than at the discounted rates normally associated with counterfeits. This is extra money into criminals’ pockets; not going to help the NHS.”

HOW DO YOU SPOT THE FAKES?

Mr Kerman said major UK brands each contain a unique code at the bottom of the packet.

So, for example, if you see two packets of Marlboro(s) with the same code, that could be an indication the product is counterfeit.

The packets were labelled in standardised plain packaging, but the code '5OE WW9 6AR JFC' is known to be on a batch of counterfeits circulating in the county.

Tobacco fraud reportedly costs the UK around £2.5 billion a year, compared to £2 billion which the NHS spends treating smoking-related illnesses.

Retailers selling illegal tobacco could lose their licence, face unlimited fines and be jailed for 10 years.

Anyone with information is asked to contact 0300 999 6 999 or report it anonymously at stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk