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'How come?' - Carreras boss questions why illicit cigarettes are able to slip through ports undetected

Published:Sunday | June 17, 2018 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis

Managing Director of Carreras Jamaica, Marcus Steele, is baffled by the large quantity of illicit cigarettes making it through the island's ports, into the hands of Jamaican smokers.

"What is baffling for me, as part of the legal industry, is that the process around my import is so rigorous, but yet still, at least a container per month of illicit cigarettes is passing through the ports. Why is that not caught?" Steele said during an interview with The Sunday Gleaner.

Last week, the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch (C-TOC) seized 890 cases of illegal cigarettes valued at approximately $534 million, one of the largest seizures of illicit smokes in recent times.

"A container is not a suitcase, and how do I know that it is sustained? When I go into the market the illegal cigarette is always there, so it is not an opportunistic buyer. This is very organised and very frequent, and you are telling me that we have never had a major fine on the wharf, never, it's always been when it gets into the island, and that is the puzzle for me," added Steele as he shared a concern voiced by the police.

"If a container of cigarettes can be taken off the wharf, without detection, it's the same way they can take off a container of firearms and ammunition. The cigarettes don't just drop from the sky or miraculously reach their destination," said Assistant Superintendent of Police Victor Barrett of the C-TOC.

According to Barrett, the police are in dialogue with the operators of the major shipping ports to ascertain how the illegal cigarettes enter the local market.

"The guardians of the wharf have a duty of care, which is a legal obligation, to adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing their duty. Someone somewhere must know something, and we at C-TOC are not taking this occurrence lightly. This matter will be thoroughly investigated," added Barrett.

In the meantime, Steele is calling for more public information on the dangers of smoking illegal cigarettes that could have come from anywhere.

"We can argue that there is no safe cigarette, but we put a process around making sure that consumers are getting good quality, they are not doing that (illicit cigarette traders)," argued Steele.

Barrett agreed, as he pointed to the poor-quality ingredients that are in counterfeit cigarettes, which can be more damaging to a person's health than the ones permitted for sale in Jamaica.

"Fake cigarettes are often made abroad, usually outside of the CARICOM region, using poor-quality materials, but are made to look like popular brands. They have five times as much cadmium, nearly six times as much lead and high levels of arsenic. They also contain 160 per cent more tar, 80 per cent more nicotine and 133 per cent more carbon monoxide," said Barrett.

It is estimated that the illicit cigarette trade robbed the Government of more than $2.6 billion in revenue for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.