Counterfeit cigarettes, clothing and pharmaceuticals as well as
pirated CD's and DVD's are among the leading illegal goods
that are being smuggled across South African borders on a daily
basis. The high demand for these goods has led to South Africa, as
Africa's largest economy, becoming a safe haven for criminals
dealing in these illicit counterfeit items.
A report by the World Customs Organisation states that
international sales of counterfeit goods comprises a 600 billion
dollar industry which currently represents between 5-7% of total
In Southern Africa, illegal trade in counterfeit and illicit
cigarettes has grown at a phenomenal pace and now comprises one of
the most prevalent and problematic counterfeited items available on
the black market. Low production costs and high levels of demand
have made counterfeit cigarettes one of the region's most
illegally trafficked goods, with some reports recording that trade
in illegal cigarettes has outgrown sales of illegal narcotics.
The trade in illegal cigarettes, also known as cigarette
smuggling or 'buttlegging', is a criminal offence and
essentially amounts to a form of tax evasion. Every year, over R4
Billion in legitimate tax revenue is lost due to trade in
counterfeit cigarettes. This is the equivalent of:
74 000 new homes;
66 500 new policeman;
105 740 new jobs;
277 777 pensions grants;
400 000 electrical connections; and
229 000 Educational bursaries.
The Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa has revealed that more
than 60% of all counterfeit cigarettes in originate from Zimbabwe
which is partly due to poor border controls. Packets are sold for
about R10 a pack, compared to approximately R30 for legal
cigarettes. These cigarettes pose a greater health risk as standard
manufacturing guidelines are not always observed and dangerous
chemical additives are frequently added during production.
Numerous international studies have discovered links between
illegal tobacco trade and organised crime groups. By purchasing
counterfeit/pirated goods, you are effectively supporting a
worldwide network of corrupt criminal activity. Organised crime
groups are attracted to the sale of illegal cigarettes as there is
high consumer demand, high potential profits and relatively low
criminal penalties when compared to trade in illegal narcotics.
Interestingly, the Australian state of Victoria has recently
declared that fines will be quadrupled for any retailers caught
selling illegal cigarettes, in a radical attempt to curb trade in
Some tips on how to spot illegal cigarettes:
Paying less than R15.00 for a pack of 20.
There is no silver diamond excise stamp on the cigarette
The readings on the pack are higher than 12 mg tar and 1.2 mg
There are no health warnings on the pack.
Poor detailing (such as spelling and printing mistakes) on the
In South Africa, The Counterfeit Goods Act 37 of 1997 ('the
Act') allows the owner of intellectual property rights (such as
copyright and trade marks) to bring civil and criminal actions
against groups or individuals who are involved in counterfeiting of
the protected goods.
First time offenders convicted under the Act may be punished
with a fine in respect of the particular act of dealing in the
relevant counterfeit goods. Such fine may not exceed R5000 per
article or item. Alternatively, they may be sentenced to
imprisonment for a period of no more than 3 years. Second or
subsequent offenders are punishable with a fine of R10 000 or to a
period of no more than 5 years imprisonment.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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