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Illegal cigarettes could cost you

Cape Town - Penalties for those caught dealing in so-called illicit cigarettes are steep, according to the Tobacco Institute of SA (Tisa).

They include a “fine of R20 000 or three times the value of the goods”, and/or a five-year prison sentence, according to a pamphlet handed to delegates attending a meeting in Cape Town on Thursday on the burgeoning illegal trade.

File image - Developing countries facing potentially pricey legal challenges from big tobacco firms are to get help from a new $4 million fund created by the philanthropists Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg. AP Photo/Dave Martin. Credit: AP

The pamphlet, published by Tisa, also warns that government “has the right to confiscate the non-compliant stock and the seller can be liable for a penalty of up to R1 million upon conviction”.

It spells out six pointers to help consumers identify a packet of illicit cigarettes.

The first is price.

“As of March (this year), a retail price to the consumer of less than R16.50 per pack of cigarettes could indicate that the necessary taxes (excise tax and VAT) have not been paid.”

Others include the absence of an embossed “SA diamond stamp” on the bottom of the pack; the absence of health warnings, or incorrect health warnings; and, the absence of a “quitline” telephone number.

Further pointers are tar levels, printed on the pack, exceeding 12mg, and nicotine levels exceeding 1.2mg, as well as the absence of a “Reduced Ignition Propensity” marking on the pack and carton.

According to Tisa, an estimated eight billion illicit cigarettes were sold in South Africa last year, costing the government more than R5bn in lost revenue.

The institute has established a hotline for members of the public to report illegal cigarettes. The number is 0800-214-710.

Sapa

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