Three men have been arrested after £1.3million worth of counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco were seized from the back of a van.

Suspicious activity was reported to the police on Tuesday morning, after a group of men were seen loading boxes of cigarettes into the back of the vehicle in Peter Street, Blackburn.

A short time later, officers stopped the Volkswagen Crafter van on the M65, close to junction four, while an Audi S3 was stopped on the A56 at Rising Bridge.

The vehicles were searched and in the van approximately 1.4 million counterfeit cigarettes and 75kg of hand-rolling tobacco were found.

The items have an estimated street value of £1.3m and would have resulted in a loss of £600,000 in excise duty.

Three people have been arrested on suspicion of theft and counterfeit offences. They are a 37-year-old man from Bolton, a 28-year-old man from Manchester and a 32-year-old man from Doncaster.

Trading Standards and HMRC were notified and all three men have since been handed over to HMRC to progress the investigation.

Sgt Pete Fyans, of the Lancashire Police TacOps team, said: “Counterfeit cigarettes are bad news on several levels, not least that they can pose a real danger to public health.

"Analysis carried out previously on seized counterfeit cigarettes has found them to contain ingredients such as arsenic, mould, insects, rat droppings, high levels of cancer-causing metals and even human faeces.

"We understand that a lot of people are struggling financially and buying cheap, illegal tobacco might seem like an easy way to save money, but it is not worth the risk.

“The sale of counterfeit cigarettes also helps to fund organised crime gangs and undercuts legitimate businesses.

“We hope this shows we will not tolerate items like this being circulated on the streets of Lancashire and we will always act on information which disrupts the supply of counterfeit goods in the county.

“If you have any information about this type of activity, we would urge you to let us know.”

Anybody with information about the supply of counterfeit goods is asked to contact the Citizens Advice Bureau here.