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Sydney city’s secret ring of illegal smoke sales


Up in smoke: Bronwen Gora buys illegal cigarettes from a kiosk. Picture: Anthony Reginato Source: The Daily Telegraph

CHEAP duty free cigarettes are being sold illegally in the CBD for as little as $8 a packet – half the cost of a regular brand.

The sellers are risking 10 years behind bars and hefty tax fines by flogging the under-the-counter smokes at news and magazine kiosks on George St.

Brands range from established labels to overseas names.

The Sunday Telegraph was last week able to buy a range of popular brands that had been imported from China, Korea and Hong Kong.

Most had “for duty free sale only” written on the side. Some had health warnings but no graphic pictures.

The trade in smuggled duty free cigarettes from other countries has doubled in the past six months, according to one of the large tobacco companies.

Popularity of illegal loose-leaf tobacco _ referred to as “chop chop’ was falling as demand for more convenient ready-made cigarettes rose, a spokesperson for British American Tobacco Australasia (BATA) said.

Rising quantities of illegal duty free cigarettes are another blow to the tobacco industry which faces the reality of plain packaging laws.

All cigarettes will be sold in olive-brown packs emblazoned with health warnings from December next year. Police are more likely to seize illegal tobacco at import level said Simon Chapman, professor of public health at the University of Sydney.

The large scale Operation Polaris, a joint effort by NSW and Federal Police, Customs and Border Protection Service and the NSW Crime Commission last month cracked a major tobacco smuggling ring.

More than 60 tonnes of illegal tobacco and 25 million counterfeit cigarettes were seized in Sydney and two men charged with bribery, dealing in proceeds of crime, and obtaining financial advantage by deception.

But fewer prosecutions occurred at retail level, BATA’s anti illicit trade manager Barry Wilson said, as illegal tobacco was so hard to track once it slipped through the net into circulation.

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