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Tough jail terms to curb illegal trade? Firms-supplied genuine goods account for majority of smuggled cigarettes though.

Concerned citizen Mr Lee Lung-wing of Tseung Kwan O sent in a letter to the SCMP, which was published on 10 Oct 2013, suggesting that the government can stem the growth of the illegal trading of cigarettes by making stronger deterrents for offenders. His letter runs as follows:

I refer to the report (“One in three HK cigarettes illegal: study [3]”, October 3).

The study that came out with this figure said that because of so much illicit tobacco the city is losing out on billions of tax revenue.

I do not think this study should prompt a debate about whether the government should lower the tax on cigarette so as to make smuggling unprofitable.

The most important issue should be how to fight the criminals involved in this illegal trade. At the end of the day, there is no public policy that can cure all social ills.

When the government raises tax to discourage cigarette consumption, it should consider thoroughly all the consequences of its action and plan ahead with corresponding solutions.

The problem of illicit cigarettes is not only about potential loss of government revenue but of funds going to criminal groups, which might create more social problems.

The SAR government should not make crime lucrative by turning a blind eye to the problem.

From a criminal justice point of view, the most cost-effective way to combat smuggling of illegal cigarettes is to establish [appropriate] sentencing guidelines in our courts. The administration should increase maximum sentences for buyers and sellers of illicit cigarettes.

Mr Lee’s idea is actually an excellent one, provided if it is understood that the ‘criminals’ in question would, in fact, be the tobacco firms themselves; of the 76 million cigarettes seized by Hong Kong customs last year, 60% were genuine products supplied in large amounts by tobacco firms, a global practice which brings volumes of unspoken benefits to them. The issue of funding criminal activity through cigarette smuggling is, in fact, part of a broad array of tactics aimed at confusing public opinion, as this letter shows, unfortunately, that has somewhat measured success.

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