The British American Tobacco SA company said the ban on cigarettes last year had led to an explosion in the illicit trade in cigarettes and organised crime syndicates.
Cape Town – The British American Tobacco SA company (Batsa) said the ban on cigarettes last year had led to an explosion in the illicit trade in cigarettes and organised crime syndicates, and armed robberies of its products had increased.
Since the ban on the sale of tobacco products was lifted, armed robberies of Batsa cigarettes in transit had risen compared with incidents during the first quarter of 2020.
Batsa general manager Johnny Moloto said the alarming increase in criminals targeting its products should be a major concern for the authorities.
“In Q1 2020, armed robbers stole 1 195 cartons per month (239 000 individual cigarettes) of our products. We obviously had no robberies during the tobacco sales ban as we were not transporting products. When the ban was lifted, on a monthly average 2 845 cartons of cigarettes (569 000 individual cigarettes) were stolen during armed attacks on our distribution vehicles. And this, although we have increased security measures,” said Moloto.
“In February 2020, the last full month before the lockdown ban, there were four such robberies. In September, the first full month after the ban was lifted, there were 12, a four-fold increase.”
Batsa had reported a drop in the number of armed robberies in the two years prior to 2020.
“The lockdown sales ban led to an explosion in the illicit trade and the increased involvement of organised crime syndicates. The ban also normalised the purchase of illicit cigarettes by South Africa’s 11 million smokers. Since the ban, we have seen a dramatic growth in the sale of illicit cigarettes in mainstream outlets, which can also be attributed to the economic hardship being suffered by South Africans.”
All robberies against Batsa were reported to the police in an attempt to arrest the culprits and retrieve the stolen goods and prevent them from entering the illicit supply chain, Moloto said.
“Batsa supports all efforts to combat the illicit market and is fully compliant with the latest production counter regulations, which should give Sars officials oversight of every cigarette made in South Africa. Batsa calls for all other cigarette manufacturers to comply with these regulations.”
Police spokesperson Noloyiso Rwexana said that due to a moratorium on crime statistics, the SAPS could not provide any statistics related to the theft of tobacco products.
Last week, the SA Tobacco Transformation Alliance (Satta) called for a crackdown on illicit cigarette trading.
Satta spokesperson Zacharia Motsumi said: “The lives of decent, hard-working South Africans are at risk from the booming illicit cigarette trade, and it is the responsibility of our lawmakers to crack down on this criminal enterprise today.”