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August 11th, 2016:

Australian tobacco executive bashed and stabbed in attempted kidnap

The attempted kidnapping, bashing and stabbing of an international tobacco company manager outside his family home in Sydney suggests crime syndicates are hitting back at efforts to combat the booming illicit tobacco trade.

A criminal syndicate is suspected of ordering the botched kidnapping in June of a former decorated NSW policeman turned manager of British American Tobacco.

The BAT manager was stabbed and bashed by at least three men, after he refused their order that he get into a car. The kidnappers arrived at the man’s Sydney home at around 10pm on Saturday June 4.

A source said the manager was forced to “fight for his life” to ward off the kidnappers, who have not been identified. He was rushed to hospital after the attack.

The attack appears to be an unprecedented escalation in the struggle between policing agencies and the syndicates driving the illicit tobacco trade. Evidence suggests the attack was linked to BAT’s support of police inquiries.

Police and big tobacco companies believe the illegal trade is driven by the escalating cost of legal cigarettes, and is now worth more than $1 billion. Budget measures mean a legal pack of cigarettes will cost $40 by 2020, compared with as little as $10 for a smuggled packet.

The bashed BAT manager had been working closely with state and federal agencies investigating the illicit trade, which is a huge source of income for organised crime syndicates in Melbourne and Sydney.

The attack has shocked law enforcement and security officials, who have compared it to the Italian mafia’s violent confrontations with managers from supermarket giant Woolworths over control of the fruit trade several decades ago.

The attack comes less than a year after a separate incident in which an undercover agent was threatened while working confidentially with organised crime detectives investigating tobacco smugglers.

A key concern to emerge from the attempted kidnapping is how the underworld may have learned of the BAT manager’s support of transnational police investigations into tobacco trafficking.

It may have also been designed as a warning to any person supporting authorities.

The attack has led some organised crime investigators to question why NSW Chief Commissioner Andrew Scipione, who has been briefed on the attack, agreed in May to shut down the Polaris waterfront crime taskforce, which was investigating several leading illicit tobacco importers in NSW.

The federal government’s response to the spike in the illicit tobacco trade has been a modest $7.7 million funding boost for the small but successful Australian Border Force Tobacco Strike Teams, which have been operating for a year.

The teams, devised by Australian Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg, have already intercepted tens of millions of dollars worth of tobacco smuggled in shipping containers into Sydney and Melbourne from the Middle East and Asia.

The teams have also mapped strong links between the illicit tobacco trade and notorious organised crime families in Melbourne and Sydney – families that are also allegedly involved in drug trafficking and violence.

It is possible the success of the strike teams, or the work of Taskforce Polaris, encouraged the attack on the BAT manager.

Organised crime investigators in NSW and Victoria have been warning for months that the illicit tobacco trade is booming.

One NSW based tobacco smuggling syndicate has used its profits to fund cocaine importations and is also linked to fundraising for a Lebanese community organisation loosely aligned with the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Organised crime groups traditionally involved in drug importations have embraced the illicit tobacco market due to the less serious penalties for those caught importing and the huge profits available.

Increases in tobacco excise, which is set to rise again this year and are backed by both major parties due to public health and revenue raising benefits, has been a boon for the illicit trade.

Criminal intelligence suggests that this has in turn led to an increase in efforts to corrupt law enforcement officials and waterfront workers who can aid smugglers.

Despite successful law enforcement efforts, illicit tobacco is sold freely and openly across Australia, suggesting huge quantities of the untaxed product is being continuously and successfully smuggled into Australia.

Health advocates have accused the tobacco industry of overstating the size of Australia’s illicit tobacco market and the involvement of organised crime as part of a strategy by ‘big tobacco’ to combat anti-tobacco initiatives that erode the profits of cigarette companies

Tobacco21 message comes to Clarkdale

Youth group lobbies council to join neighboring Cottonwood

On the heels of Cottonwood becoming the first Arizona municipality to outlaw tobacco by those under 21 years of age, the Yavapai County Anti-Smoking Coalition of Youth asked the neighboring Town of Clarkdale to do the same during an Aug. 9 council meeting.

On June 3, Cottonwood City Council approved Ordinance 620 making illegal “the possession, use and/or sale of tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, or vapor products, by or to persons under the age of 21.”

So far, 184 municipalities and two other states — California and Hawaii — have banned tobacco sales to those under 21, according to the national youth-led group (the impetus behind Y.A.T.C.Y.). Along with making the sale of tobacco illegal, the law also extends to the possession and use of tobacco by those under 21 in some cities (such as Cottonwood) and Hawaii. For those old enough to be serving in the military yet too young to legally purchase tobacco, an exception was made for service members in the California law.

Y.A.T.C.Y. President Gunner Tillamens opened and closed the presentation. He was joined by Vice President Noemy Cervantes and members Sofia Rocha, Katie Williams, Mariah Worthy, Emily Rocha, Daphne Roeske and Stefan Robertson as they took turns addressing the mayor and council. The students needed little help from co-presenter Jen Mabery, health educator, Yavapai County Community Health Services, who intervened only as requested.

“We are asking you to join us,” said Rocha to the council. “We understand that the Oovah Smoke Shop is up the street so we are also making appointments with tribal members.”

Officials share their battles with nicotine addiction

The mayor and some council members shared their own personal battles with nicotine addiction.

“I started smoking at 17. When I was 30, I was smoking three-and-one-half packs a day,” said Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig. “At that time, smoking was almost a mandatory thing in the Air Force.”

Council member Bill Regner added his experience, saying “My dad died at 53 from lung cancer and I still smoked as he was dying. Because my own child was relentless (about smoking), I decided to quit for his birthday. This habit is very destructive in many ways.”

“I was 16 when I started smoking and did not quit until I was 52. It was the hardest thing I had ever done,’ said Vice Mayor Richard Dehnert. “I don’t recommend anyone start smoking at any age.”

Answers to raising the age

The initiation of nicotine addiction in youth is of primary concern to Y.A.T.C.Y., as current law allows tobacco sales to 18-year-olds. Tillamens shared what happened after Needham, Massachusetts became the first municipality to raise the legal age of tobacco sales from 18 to 21.

“In 2005, it raised the age to 21. In 2006, the town had a youth smoking rate of 13 percent versus 15 percent in neighboring cities. It then dropped down to 6.7 percent and eventually the decline was triple that of neighboring cities,” said Tillamens.

According to Y.A.T.C.Y., 21,000 children under 18 will try cigarettes each year, with 5,500 becoming regular daily smokers and 90 percent becoming lifetime smokers.

To counter the fear that retailers would lose sales, the group said that “the impact will be minimal,” with “cigarette sales are only 2.4 percent for those under 21.”

Questions on raising the age

While in ready agreement with the health hazards posed by the use of tobacco by youth, council was more circumspect about adopting Cottonwood’s law.

Von Gausig gently voiced to the group that as they made their rounds of presentations, “you are going to have to answer some tough questions that you may or may not have an answer to.”

When Von Gausig asked who funded Y.A.T.C.Y., Mabery stepped-in, stating “Yavapai Community Health Services” and that “tobacco companies are required to pay for education.”

He also queried the group as to the source of its statistics and was told “Tobacco 21″ and that the “sources are listed on its website.”

Dehnert had some questions about the consequences of the law.

“If someone is 19 or 20 and smoking legally since 18, would that mean they are no longer be able to legally purchase and possess cigarettes? If the ordinance is passed, would that mean someone who is addicted becomes a criminal? I would consider it in phases – – age 20 one year, age 19 the next – – so someone is not suddenly told they can’t purchase,” said Dehnert.

As the subject of possible jail time was discussed, Town Manager Gayle Mabery stated it was her understanding that the decision whether to incarcerate or not would be up to the individual magistrate. (In Cottonwood, Police Chief Steve Gesell is on record stating “education first and enforcement second”).

What lies ahead for Clarkdale?

While the youth group and health services may have hoped for council’s vote of approval to raise the age of tobacco sales, no formal action was on the agenda for this meeting.

However, it was clear that the well-prepared group of students made a lasting impression on council.

“I applaud the energy that you are putting into this,” said Von Gausig.

“A major impact is in the school, telling this to your children in school,” said Regner.

“I have four young children and I am fearful of them becoming involved with tobacco,” said Council member Scott Buckley. “I think it’s a great idea. I’d like to see more of a smokeless generation.”

Senegal to start enforcing anti-tobacco law

Senegal’s president Macky Sall has approved the enforcement of a law that prohibits tobacco consumption in public places as well as its sale to minors.

This means it is now illegal to sell cigarettes within 200 metres of an educational institution. The law also bans general advertisement of tobacco products.

Cigarette producers have been urged to include messages on the dangers of smoking to their packages.

The approval of the law passed by the country’s parliament two years ago , has been hailed by Senegal’s anti-tobacco programme officials who say tobacco consumption has led to many cases of cancer among Senegal’s youth.

The tobacco industry has been given a six month period to comply with the new rules and regulations.

Hotel and restaurant owners on their part have been given a 9-month deadline to stop accepting tobacco in their various work places.

Tobacco is the leading cause of dead across the world.

The WHO says close to 6 million people die each year as a result of direct and indirect consumption of tobacco.

According to the NGO Action on Smoking and Health, tobacco will kill one billion people in the 21st century if left unchecked.

Agrokor Sells Part of Tisak to British American Tobacco

What will happen with the Croatia’s largest newsstand chain?

With the recent purchase of Adris’ tobacco business, British American Tobacco (BAT) also acquired 25.8 percent of Tisak, shares which are owned by the Rovinj Tobacco Factory (TDR). BAT has now increased its stake in the largest domestic chain of newsstands by additional 16 percent. Agrokor announced on Wednesday that it had signed a contract about the transaction with TDR, reports on August 11, 2016.

With this transaction, TDR has gained 381,854 shares and now it owns 42 percent of Tisak, while Agrokor retains 51.3 percent of shares. Agrokor’s statement regarding the transaction was rather vague and short. The price, as expected, remains unknown, but the same is true about the motives and the nature of this sale. They only said that “Tisak is the market leader in introducing new and innovative services and products, and this transaction will enable additional investments in the modernization, efficiency and increased operational security”.

Although Tisak’s semi-annual report suggests an increased investment activity this year (200.5 million kuna), business community is looking for other explanations. A part of it believes that this purchase of shares could be a kind of prelude to BAT’s takeover of Tisak or at least one step toward such a scenario, while others see the move as motivated by Agrokor’s liquidity issues and needs related to debt servicing.

In business circles there have been speculations for some time now (after last year’s half-billion-euro BAT’s takeover of TDR) about the fate of Tisak. The distribution network has been mentioned as an important part of that deal, including the price paid. In other countries where it operates, BAT does not usually tend to acquire retail chains, but the situation is somewhat different in Croatia. Of course, the takeover scenario would require the approval of the Croatian Competition Agency and it would involve measures related to regulations on concentration and market competition.