In this Saturday, March 2, 2013 photo, a woman smokes a cigarette at her home in Hayneville, Ala. A new study released on Monday, March 4, 2013 offers more compelling evidence that life expectancy for some U.S. women is actually falling. A new study found that over 10 years, death rates for women under age 75 increased in nearly half of U.S. counties - many of them rural and in the South and West. There was no such trend among men. Some leading theories blame higher smoking rates and higher unemployment, but several experts said they simply don't know. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

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.

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.