Tobacco supplier JTI has taken the dramatic step of ripping out its gantry from an independent shop mired in the illegal tobacco business.

This is the first time the company has ever taken this action in response to a retailer being convicted for this crime, and JTI is now threatening to remove the gantries of other retailers convicted in future.

Persistent offender Mohammed Sedoo was jailed for six months after Trading Standards officers caught him selling counterfeit and non-duty-paid tobacco at his store, Central Newsagents, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

JTI took action on learning of the conviction, sending the clear message that if you dabble in the murky world of black market tobacco you stand to lose both your liberty and the support of the industry.

Paul Williams, JTI UK head of corporate affairs, told Retail Express: “This prosecution, coupled with our action, clearly demonstrates this crime does not pay. Let’s be clear, retailers who sell illegal tobacco risk a criminal conviction, no further support from JTI and, where we own the gantry, a risk of losing that, too.

“A minority of independent retailers who get sucked into this illegal trade are giving honest, hard-working retailers a bad name. Customers who buy tobacco will eventually lose faith and trust in their local independent shop if a perception grows that the independent trade is rife with ‘dodgy cigs’.”

In this case, Sedoo was caught with 240 illegal cigarette packs and 130 pouches of illicit rolling tobacco worth £3,579, some of which was hidden in his coffee machine. He was still selling under-the-counter products despite previous seizures in 2010 and warnings from Trading Standards.

During sentencing, Judge William Hart told Sedoo that while he was a hard-working family man, this type of offence has become so prevalent and is so serious that an immediate jail sentence was the only course possible.

JTI head of communications Jeremy Blackburn said: “This whole issue is about responsibility. Most retailers are living perfectly legal day-to-day lives. They need to get rid of the people who are basically stealing customers from them and making profit from crime.”

In our special report (RE, September 24) we revealed that retailers in south London and the north-west are losing up to 20% of their business because of illicit tobacco being sold in pubs, shops and homes.