Corner shop caught selling illegal vapes hidden behind sweets

Mix Store in Weston-super-Mare
-Credit: (Image: Google Maps)


A corner shop where illegal vapes were allegedly hidden behind boxes of sweets has been stripped of its alcohol licence by North Somerset Council.

Mix Store, at 38 Meadow Street in Weston-super-Mare, had 116 illicit vapes on a shelf behind the counter “concealed behind cartons of sweets,” according to Jay Capel of the council ’s trading standards team in a report which went before the council’s licensing subcommittee. She also warned the shop had been selling “smuggled” shisha tobacco and food not labelled in English, in contravention of food regulations.

Police are working with councils’ trading standards team to run a major crackdown on illegal vapes and tobacco. Illegal vapes and tobacco are those not intended for the UK market, not meeting UK regulations and cannot be legally sold in the country, or without the right tax paid on them.

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According to reports that went before North Somerset Council’s licensing subcommittee, trading standards officers were contacted eight times in the last four years about claims the shop was selling illegal vapes and tobacco. In a “covert” move, an operative bought a vape from the shop for £11.

The report stated: “It was incorrectly labelled and had a 12ml tank. According to the operative, the vapes were concealed behind the counter hidden behind confectionery.”

Trading standards officers later visited the premises, seizing 63 pouches of shisha tobacco alongside the 116 vapes. The report stated: “The shisha did not comply with [Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016] or have the appropriate UK fiscal duty paid and is consequently smuggled.”

It added: “During this visit, Mr Karwan Aziz Rafiq, who identified himself as the owner and later director, acknowledged that the vapes were not legal but said they were what his customers wanted. He declined to say where he had gotten them from because he said he did not want to get anyone into trouble.”

At a hearing before North Somerset Council’s licensing subcommittee on July 2, Ms Capel said: “Revoking the premises licence will send a clear message that North Somerset Council won’t accept this kind of behaviour.”

Revoking the shop’s licence will stop the shop selling alcohol, but does not actually limit its ability to sell legal tobacco products, which does not require a licence from the council. But it is a move councils may take as a punitive measure or because they do not believe shopkeepers to be responsible and upholding the law.

But Mustafa Bestoon, who was invited to speak before the committee from the shop and is listed as the sole director of Mix Store Ltd, insisted: “I didn’t know anything about this.” He said he was the owner but had a lease agreement and Mr Rafiq ran the shop. He added: “Because I have a family, I don’t want to lose the business.”

When pressed by council officers he said he was in the shop a couple of times a week, and agreed that he owned it but was not responsible for the day to day running. Ms Capel said: “This is smoke and mirrors as far as I am concerned.”

The committee decided to strip the shop of its licence to sell alcohol. Mike Solomon, chair of the subcommittee, told Mr Bestoon: “Of course this is a very serious offence and you have really left us no other option but to revoke your licence.”

The shop will be able to clear its alcohol stock during a 21-day appeal period.