Illicit cigarettes burn holes in SA

From: IOL News

By Henri du Plessis

Cape Town – A large tanker truck with a tanker trailer stops at the Beit Bridge border post. It has just crossed the border from Zimbabwe. The driver presents his credentials to the border officials and declares his tanker truck empty.

But customs agents are ready. They have had a tip-off and leap into action. The truck is full of illicit cigarettes – thousands upon thousands of them. The smugglers had gone to great lengths to keep their cargo hidden.

They had cut open the truck and trailer’s petroleum tanks, stacked in the cigarettes and carefully closed everything up again, repainting the truck. They also left open spaces at the inspection hatches so that a dip stick check would show the tanks were empty.

That is the sort of effort smugglers will make to keep their trade going. The larger the scale of the operation, the greater the effort.

And the scale is huge.

On Wednesday last week, R6.5 million worth of illicit and counterfeit cigarettes were shredded, pulverised and dumped. The 800 cases were seized from smugglers during an attempt to bring them into the country.

That is why it is easy to categorise cigarette smuggling as organised crime.

Because organised crime has structures and systems in place that provide the infrastructure for such illegal ventures, the same infrastructure could be used for moving drugs, stolen goods, hijacked cars and human trafficking.

Police liaison officer Andre Traut said cigarette smuggling was a very serious problem.

“We do not turn a blind eye to any crime, and although I do not want to attribute other crimes to the situation, it is a fact that there are a lot of illegal cigarettes being sold here… ” he said.

“If you support the sale of illegal cigarettes, you are supporting a crime. And, in the end, you are supporting other serious crimes.”

Illicit trade damages the businesses of the legal tobacco industry and the market is better off being entirely free of it, said the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa.

“It deprives the government of revenues, promotes criminal activity, misleads consumers into buying products of dubious quality and hampers efforts to block underage sales,” the institute said. “Illicit trade harms brands and prevents the legal trade from competing fairly and openly and undermines the regulations governing the legitimate industry.”

But only governments could tackle illegal trade effectively through policy and enforcement, it said.

“Illicit trade should be treated as a serious offence and adequate resources should be dedicated to ensuring effective enforcement. We are committed to working with the government in public/private partnership to develop and implement strategies to combat the problem.” The sale of illicit cigarettes was not a problem in formal retail, said Henry Bam, owner of the Uitzicht Spar in Kraaifontein.

“Franchises and large retailers get their cigarettes through formal structures and systems and centralised buying helps to avoid any problems with this kind of thing,” he explained.

“Formal retailers will only buy through regular channels, because they have to properly account for sales.

Bam said the greatest problem lay with informal retailers and sidewalk stalls. “Sometimes, these people do not even realise what they are buying, they just like the price,” he said.


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