KUALA LUMPUR: Illegal cigarette vendors will now be treated like common criminals and remanded for up to seven days if they are caught.
Concerned that Malaysia is now ranked number one in the world for the sale of contraband cigarettes, the Customs Department is also pressing for maximum sentence against them.
Those caught selling the contraband item face a maximum three years imprisonment or a fine of up to 20 times the value of the seized item or both under Section 135(1)(d) of the Customs Act 1967. Repeat offenders face a maximum of five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 40 times the value of the item.
Customs director-general Datuk Seri Khazali Ahmad said the department would also push for a compulsory jail term for the offenders to act as a deterrent.
“The fear of being jailed is the best deterrent to cripple the illegal cigarette trade in the country. We want to put an end to the sales and consumption of the contraband,” he told a press conference after launching a nationwide operation dubbed Ops Outlet yesterday.
Khazali said the illegal trade was costing the Government some RM1.9bil in unpaid duty annually and the department had formed 44 strike teams to conduct checks and raids on outlets suspected of selling illegal cigarettes.
“Currently, 35% of the total cigarettes on sale in the country are illegal products. Under Ops Outlet, we aim to reduce the number to at least 30% this year,” he said.
While the operation was focused on retailers, Khazali said those caught buying or even possessing the illegal item would face similar punishment.
He added that the department had encouraged wholesalers to blacklist traders found to have sold illegal cigarettes.
Khazali explained that since 2010, 752 people had been charged in court for the offence.
The department, he said, had seized more than 1.6 billion sticks of illegal cigarettes worth more than RM134mil since 2011.
“Unpaid duty on the seized products totalled RM811mil. We are making headway in the war against cigarette smuggling,” he said.
Those with information on the sales of illegal cigarettes can contact the department at 1-800-888-855.
Studies have consistently found that illicit tobacco has higher concentrations of toxic heavy metals when compared to legal cigarettes. Their cadmium levels were also up to 6.5 times higher than authentic brands. They also contained thallium (4.9 times) and lead (13.8 times).