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Monday August 28, 2006

Singapore crackdown on cigarette smuggling

SINGAPORE (AP) - Singapore customs officials have confiscated more than 58,000 kilograms (128,000 pounds) of tobacco and caught more than 5,500 people so far this year in a crackdown on cigarette smuggling, a newspaper reported Monday. 

The crackdown follows an increase in the smuggling of cigarettes and tobacco due to high prices in Singapore, where the government has increased duties in an effort to curb smoking. 

The 58,113 kilograms of seized tobacco has a market value of 26 million Singapore dollars (US$16.47 million; euro12.91 million), the Straits Times reported. 

A total of 44,197 kilograms (97,436 pounds) was confiscated in 2005. 

The report said the 705 people have been charged with smuggling, while more than 4,800 other peddlers and consumers were fined. 

The fine for one pack of contraband cigarettes is S$200 (US$127; euro99.5), double last year's fine. 

Authorities have increased fines, put more officers on the job and started a public education campaign in attempts to stop the smuggling. 

High demand for the contraband, though, comes from high prices in Singapore, where a pack of premium cigarettes costs more than 11 Singapore dollars (US$7; euro5.50), compared to just S$3 (US$1.90; euro1.50) across the border in Malaysia. A contraband pack costs S$5 (US$3.15; euro2.47). 

Authorities are also confiscating Chinese-made copies of the premium brand cigarettes, which sell for even less money. 

The newspaper said the police, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, Health Sciences Authority and Cisco security organization have conducted at least nine joint operations this year against the smugglers.

For another perspective from The Straits Times, a partner of Asia News Network, click here.

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