Sly retailers are using second-hand cigarette gantries to disguise their illicit products and continue trading unscathed.

Retailers are able to buy used gantries online without having to submit a background check, leaving manufacturers with little knowledge of how and where they are used.

A Midlands retailer, who did not wish to be named, alerted Retail Express to a store in his area that was known to be selling illegal tobacco, but still had an Imperial Tobacco-branded gantry. “When I told my rep, he said they can’t rip it out because it looked like it had been bought on eBay,” the retailer said. “He said ripping it out would be crossing a boundary.”

He added that this left him feeling disappointed as the illicit cigarettes being sold from the store were “damaging the whole system”. “I’ve told my customers about how dangerous these products can be, but they don’t care,” he said.

“I’m in a deprived area, so all they see is the price. I can already picture how bad it’s going to get when new plain pack regulations come in next year.”

Imperial Tobacco told Retail Express that once retailers had purchased one of its gantries, they were free to sell it on.

When I told my rep, he said they can’t rip it out because it looked like it had been bought on eBay

“There is nothing stopping a retailer from selling a gantry which they own,” said a spokesman. “Clearly, if the gantry were still the property of Imperial Tobacco, then to remove it and sell it would be a significant breach of our terms and conditions.”

He added that Imperial would would address any abuse of its brand or intellectual property rights – whether it belonged to the manufacturer or a retailer. “We would always seek to investigate and pass the information on to the appropriate authorities to pursue,” he said.

The spokesman said the details provided by the retailer had been passed on to Imperial’s anti-illicit trade team for further investigation.

Hitesh Pandya, retail crime spokesperson for the Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance, said gantries should be ripped out of any store caught selling illegal tobacco.

“If manufacturers can’t do that, the problem’s going to get worse,” he said. “It’s sad to hear that ex-supplier gantries are being used in this way. There should be a clause in all purchasing contracts to prevent this from happening – I’ll be discussing these issues with my MP.”