Retailers blighted by the scourge of illegal tobacco have been urged not to suffer in silence during 2015.

Manufacturers have called on independent shopkeepers to play a leading role in identifying the illicit traders who steal profit from legitimate businesses.

The call came as Imperial Tobacco announced it had removed a gantry for the first time from the owner of a shop where non-UK duty paid cigarettes were discovered.

It follows similar actions by JTI at a string of shops in the past year.

Ghulam Jafri, of Millfield Off Licence in Peterborough, was convicted of duty evasion in October after 100 packets of Jin Ling cigarettes were discovered.

Imperial recovered the gantry from the shop on 9 December – the first time it has used breach of contract to seize equipment it owns.

Anti-illicit trade manager Peter Nelson said: “It’s imperative that we take a firm line on these perpetrators in order to protect our legal retailers and the communities they serve.”It’s imperative that we take a firm line on these perpetrators in order to protect our legal retailers and the communities they serve – Peter Nelson, Imperial Tobacco anti-illicit trade manager

Imperial launched the Suspect It? Report It! campaign earlier this year to urge the trade to act as the eyes and ears of the authorities.

Mr Nelson added: “We cannot afford to take a backward step in the face of this criminality. Every call, every bit of intelligence, assists our law enforcement partners; as our campaign message says if you suspect it, report it.

Retailers who operate near the Peterborough store said their sales had increased since the owner was prosecuted.

“Sales went up by about 10% on tobacco after this shop was prosecuted,” said Ghulam Jillani of Alexandra Trading. “We have a part to play by making sure we don’t let anybody get away with stealing our trade.”

JTI head of communications Jeremy Blackburn said: “Every honest retailer should protect their business and local community from criminals who sell illegal tobacco.

“Rogue retailers are dragging the good name of hard working business people through the mud every time they get away with this crime.

To look the other way and do nothing is not acceptable. Take a stand and report it today – Jeremy Blackburn, JTI head of communications”To look the other way and do nothing is not acceptable. Take a stand and report it today.”

Debbie Corris, chair of the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, added: “Too many retailers still see trading standards as an enemy, but it is more important than ever to work with them to banish the illicit trade.”