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S'pore customs to study illegal cigs trade

Publication Date : 27-12-2013


Amid growing concern over illegal cigarettes, Singapore authorities have called for a comprehensive survey to estimate the supply of the contraband item in Singapore.

On December 19, the Singapore Customs put up a tender on government procurement website GeBiz, seeking a consultancy to conduct the survey.

The online document said that the survey aims to "better understand the illicit cigarette market and the deterrent effects of the anti-contraband cigarette initiatives implemented".

The survey, to be completed by May 30 next year, is targeted at only smokers and should include Singapore citizens, Singapore permanent residents, foreigners working here and tourists.

To be conducted at selected locations and timings, the survey should gather information on the profile of smokers, the brands and costs of cigarettes smoked and where the cigarettes were purchased from.

The move comes amid a surge in contraband cigarettes seized by the Singapore Customs - in the first nine months of this year, there were 1.9 million packets of the item seized, a rise of 84 per cent from the same period last year.

The Tobacco Association of Singapore said "illegal cigarettes are a perennial issue for Singapore given that cigarette prices are S$1.60 (US$1.26) per pack in Indonesia as compared to S$12 (US$9.45) per pack here for the same popular brands".

While the association's spokesman welcomed the planned survey, he said there would be people who would not readily admit that they are buying or selling illegal cigarettes.

Last month, the European Union's Commissioner for Taxation, Customs, Statistics, Audit and Anti-Fraud Algirdas Semeta said the illegal trans-shipment of tobacco products between the EU and Singapore is still high despite the local authorities' best efforts.

A Singapore Customs spokesman told The Straits Times that the last such survey it conducted was in 2009, when there were 2.9 million packets of illegal cigarettes seized.

"Over the past few years, Singapore Customs has rolled out anti-contraband cigarette public education campaigns, community outreach programmes, and revised the Singapore Duty-Paid Cigarette mark on duty-paid cigarettes," said its spokesman.

But despite these efforts, Singapore was ranked fourth for its high rate of illicit tobacco use in Asia, a regional study has shown.

The study conducted in 11 countries and territories revealed that one in four cigarettes smoked in Singapore last year was illegal.

Smokers here consumed 900 million contraband cigarettes last year, depriving the state of around S$347 million (US$273 million) in tax revenue, the study showed.

The findings of the study, conducted by research groups, the International Tax and Investment Centre and Oxford Economics, were released in September.

Last year, tougher penalties, such as increased fines and mandatory jail terms, were rolled out to fight illicit cigarette offences.

Under the Customs Act and the Goods and Services Tax Act, those committing offences linked to unpaid-duty goods can be fined up to 40 times the amount of tax evaded, jailed for up to six years, or both.


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