File picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

Tobacco companies in SA may have aided, abetted illicit cigarette sales, report says

By IOL Reporter Time of article published Oct 7, 2020

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Cape Town – A Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime report has revealed that at least 66% of cigarettes earmarked as “exports” did not make it out of the country or did not reach their intended destination during the lockdown.

Titled “When the Smoke Clears”, the report studied the affect the five-month cigarette sale ban had on the country, when it was a hunting ground for illicit traders, TimesLive reported.

It concluded that that tobacco companies in SA may have been ’’aiding and abetting an illicit global trade in these products that is not merely confined to Southern Africa’’.

Tobacco companies repeatedly denied being behind the large number of cigarettes available on the flourishing black market – often at exorbitant prices.

In May, the tobacco industry had reached an agreement with the government that it could continue to produce cigarettes — but only for export – while the sale, transport and distribution of tobacco and related products were banned.

According to a University of Cape Town research report, 93% of South Africa‘s smokers were buying illegal cigarettes. It revealed that illicit cigarette traders were making a killing on sales after the average price of some brands increased by 457% during the lockdown.

The “When the Smoke Clears” report said: “Destination countries included neighbouring Namibia and Lesotho, as well as Mali in West Africa and Syria.

’’In the case of the former two countries, not only were fewer cigarettes recorded as imports than were listed as exports from SA, but the number of cigarettes marked for these countries far exceeded their per capita consumption of the product.

“This missing stock is likely lost to the black market, and given the proximity of Lesotho and Namibia to SA, it probably finds its way back home.

’’In the case of exports to Mali and Syria, missing stock probably either never leaves SA, or it gets lost in transit and enters black markets abroad.

“If this is the case, it means that tobacco companies in SA are aiding and abetting an illicit global trade in these products that is not merely confined to Southern Africa.”

The report further states: “A gang member in Cape Town who sold cigarettes during this time claims that his stock was sourced from Namibia. Some gangs also allegedly procured stock from ships docked in Cape Town’s harbour,” the report reveals.

“Lesotho has also been identified as a source or transit country, with consignments seized along its border with the Eastern Cape.

“These examples illustrate that there are multiple points of entry for illegal cigarettes, seemingly with few obstacles faced by operators.”

IOL

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