The trade in illicit cigarettes is not a victimless crime. The illicit cigarette trade funds organised crime in Zambia. This was the opinion of Nase Lungu, Senior Collector from the Investigation Department of the Zambian Mobile Compliance Unit and other international speakers at an annual Anti Illicit Trade conference which was held in Cape Town, South Africa last week.
Mr Lungu was one of the speakers from over 20 countries across Africa and the rest of the world who joined representatives from Europol, Interpol and Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs Organisation in the UK on discussing ways of combating the illicit tobacco trade.
Mr Lungu said that one of the problems facing law enforcement officials in Zambia was that many people did not see the sale of illegal cigarettes as a crime, and that they did not realise the impact that it has on their lives.
The illicit cigarette trade in Zambia resulted in a loss of an estimated US$2.4 million from the government fiscus in 2013 alone, a figure which is estimated to have increased during 2014. This is money that could be spent on building roads and schools and improving the health service.
Industry sources at the conference indicated that illicit cigarette products in Zambia can be identified through the absence of the required Zambia Revenue Authority tax stamps on the pack. These cigarettes are therefore being sold in contravention of the law.
“We need to educate people so that they know that this is not a victimless crime. We are all the victims of this activity.”
Mr Lungu outlined a number of methods that were being used in the fight against illicit trade, but emphasised that none would be effective without increased information sharing and joint operations with customs officials from neighbouring countries.
“Zambia shares the challenge of many African countries in that its borders are porous,” Mr Lungu said. “It is a global, regional and national problem which has several adverse effects, including a loss of government revenue, unfair competition and health risks associated with poor quality counterfeit products.
“Cooperation is the key. We need to cooperate on a government level, and we need to cooperate with the legitimate traders and cigarette manufacturers to stamp out this scourge,” he said.
Mr Lungu also called for the increased use of modern technology including scanners which could identify the vehicles used for smuggling the cigarettes.
“It is not impossible for every vehicle that crosses our borders to be searched,” he said. “The searching of just one truck can take up to five hours. The only way to stop the smuggling is to make use of more sophisticated technology.”