Sniffer dogs hunted out illegal tobacco worth £15,000 in the North East.
The specialist dogs - who work with police forces and councils across the UK - scoured shops and off-licences to find stashes.
They discovered rolling tobacco hidden behind a false wall, banned chewing tobacco and hundreds of illegal cigarettes were buried at the bottom of innocent looking food boxes, and even under meat stored in a butcher’s counter.
Shopkeepers now face prosecution by the local authorities, who came together in their tobacco clampdown through joint investigation Operation Henry yesterday.
A spokesperson for Newcastle City Council’s Trading Standards department said bringing in the two specialist dogs for the first time had helped.
He said: “We are sending out the message that we are prepared to use the dogs in the hunt for illicit tobacco. It’s about tackling duty not being paid but it’s also about health.
“Counterfeit cigarettes can be mixed with harmful substances and the chewing tobacco we seized had no warning labels and it is known to cause mouth cancer. “The situation in the North East for illegal cigarettes and tobacco needs addressing and we are prepared to use the dogs as a tool to do so.”
A raid at an off-licence in North Shields revealed a hidden room behind a panel in a cupboard.
At knee-height, the panel was not visible, but the sniffer dogs sensed there was something stashed behind the wall.
When officers removed the panel they found a store room with 85kg of Turner Blue hand rolling tobacco with an estimated street value of £15,000.
Twelve bottles of vodka and 54 bottles of tequila -both suspected to be counterfeit - were also found.
In Newcastle the sniffer dogs, spaniels Milo and Buster, were sent into a convenience shop in Walker where they found 25 packets of suspected non-duty paid hand-rolling tobacco in a wall cavity.
And at a butchers shop in the city centre, 14 packets of Winston counterfeit cigarettes and a large quantity of Zarda chewing tobacco was seized.
Operation Henry is the first time local authorities across the North East have used specialist sniffer dogs as part of their clampdown on illegal tobacco.
The authorities have also had support from staff from the Scambusters enforcement team who work with Trading Standards.
The dogs, aged two and three, have so far found hundreds of thousands of cigarettes and pouches of fake tobacco and over £50,000 in cash between them while helping councils and the police across the UK.
Handler Adam Vizard, 44, who trained the dogs for company Wagtail UK and brought them from North Wales for Tyneside’s operation, said: “Both Milo and Buster have done extremely well. In the last few days they have located cigarettes and tobacco concealed beneath floorboards, under counters, hollowed out egg cartons and hidden rooms. They’ve found hundreds of thousands of items between them including the 85kg of hand-rolling tobacco.”
Raids also took place across Gateshead at four shops however no illegal tobacco or cigarettes was found.
Gateshead Council Trading Standards Manager, Diane Champman, said: “Those involved in dealing in illegal tobacco may be encouraging people, including children to smoke by providing a cheap source.
“The detection dogs can find tobacco and cigarettes even if hidden in the most unlikely places.
“Offenders need to know that they will face consequences if they choose to deal in these illegal products.”