Editorial

Mr Steele is correct; this is more than a cigarette issue

Friday, August 10, 2018

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It's highly possible that even if the Government slashes the tax on cigarettes, as is being recommended by Carreras Managing Director Mr Marcus Steele, the illegal trade could still thrive.

Because, while a drop in the tax would allow retailers to cut the per stick price of the legal product, the fact that the State is unable to collect a tax on illegally imported cigarettes would likely result in the underground trade keeping the prices below what is legally recommended.

That, though, should not deter the Administration from tackling the larger problem of port security raised by Mr Steele.

We share his view that this matter should not be treated as just a cigarette issue. Indeed, the Government and every law-abiding citizen of this country must be concerned that any product can simply be brought into the island without going through the proper channels.

The country already has a major problem with the importation of illegal arms and ammunition which are fuelling organised crime. We would not be surprised to learn that the vast sums being earned from the illegal trade in cigarettes are also being used to fund gangs and criminal activity.

Readers will recall that just last month the police force's Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Branch (C-TOC) seized illegally imported cigarettes valued at more than $60 million at premises in St Andrew.

A month earlier, the police seized 890 cases of illegally imported cigarettes, valued at over $500 million, during an operation in St James.

Those are just two of the many instances when large numbers of illegally imported cigarettes were confiscated by the authorities.

It is obvious that the individuals involved in this activity are wealthy because no small player can move products in such large volumes.

In addition, their operation is clearly well oiled as they no doubt have their tentacles hooked into key agencies prepared to look the other way, in order to facilitate their criminal activities.

That would probably explain why the only individuals arrested and charged so far in these seizures are really petty functionaries.

We refuse to believe that there are no uncompromised individuals left serving the State. Therefore, we expect that those officials and possible whistleblowers who still hold dear the tenets of integrity, honesty and patriotism will push back hard against the evil people who value money and other material possessions over human life and the protection of our country.

The Government, we note, has said that it has increased expenditure to fund the acquisition of marine surveillance equipment to tackle the illicit trade in counterfeit products.

Those equipment cannot be acquired too soon. At the same time, C-TOC, which we regard as a most efficient police unit, needs to target the major players in the trade of illicit goods. Only successful prosecution of those individuals — the ones who really call the shots — will have any real impact on stifling illegality.

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