PETALING JAYA: Interpol has warned that the cigarette component supply chain is being exploited by organised crime to rake in billions of dollars in its illicit trade.
Interpol secretary-general General Ronald K. Noble said producers of acetate tow, a key component in cigarette filters, were exporting high volumes of their product to cigarette manufacturers.
“In some cases, the export volumes are significantly higher than government-mandated levels for legitimate production,” he said in a statement yesterday.
“In one country alone, figures showed a surplus of nearly 27,000 tonnes of acetate tow a year, which is enough to make 214 billion cigarettes – worth tens of millions of dollars in the black market.”
Gen Noble said either acetate tow producers were selling excess levels of acetate tow to manufacturers producing illicit cigarettes, or acetate tow was being diverted from legitimate to illegitimate distribution points.
“One solution is for acetate tow producers to put in place their own stricter supply chain controls.
“Another is for governments to impose severe criminal sanctions or civil penalties on producers who knowingly sell to manufacturers producing illicit cigarettes, or who remain wilfully ignorant to the final distribution points of their products,” he said.
He felt the industry was not interested to find out how their products ended up in the hands of organised criminals.
“It is in the interest of all governments to establish due diligence frameworks and ‘know your customer’ programmes such as those required for banks, and to demand track and trace systems for key component manufacturers. Such initiatives can help combat the illicit trade in tobacco products and avoid millions being siphoned out of the public purse,” he said.
Interpol launched its Trafficking in Illicit Goods and Counterfeiting programme in 2012, building on its established efforts against intellectual property crime, and to increase the organisation’s efforts and resources to identify and dismantle the organised crime networks behind these crimes which pose a serious threat to public health and safety.
On Wednesday, the Customs and Excise Department launched Ops Outlet, targeting traders of illegal cigarettes and imposing harsher sentences for selling the contraband.