Hong Kong Customs has strengthened enforcement against illicit cigarettes in June, in support of the Quit in June campaign launched by the Department of Health, and successfully detected 241 cases. About 22 million suspected illicit cigarettes and 530 000 suspected alternative smoking products (ASPs), with an estimated market value of over $80 million, were seized. The duty potential of the suspected illicit cigarettes was more than $40 million.
In June, Customs officers cracked down on 77 cases involving suspected ASPs at Hong Kong International Airport, Shenzhen Bay Control Point, Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Control Point and container terminals. The cases mainly involved smuggling the relevant products into the territory through cargo and postal package channels. During the operation, Customs also effected 52 cases involving smuggling of suspected illicit cigarettes. The smugglers would mix-load the illicit cigarettes with other goods, including foodstuffs and household products, to evade Customs detection.
The other 112 cases are storage, distribution and peddling cases. During the operation, Customs smashed two large-scale illicit cigarette storage centres, and 14 vehicles suspected to be used as distributing illicit cigarettes were detained. Seventy-seven men and 11 women, aged between 17 and 83, were arrested. Investigations of the above-mentioned cases are ongoing.
A Customs spokesman said that while illicit cigarette syndicates normally use industrial building units or metal huts in rural areas to store illicit cigarettes, they also rent luxurious residential units as storage centres to disguise illicit cigarette activities. Syndicates will also handle and distribute illicit cigarettes in car parks or roadsides in remote areas to evade Customs investigation.
Customs will continue its risk assessment and intelligence analysis for interception at source as well as through its multi-pronged enforcement strategy targeting storage, distribution and peddling to spare no effort in combating illicit cigarette activities.
Smuggling is a serious offence. Under the Import and Export Ordinance, any person found guilty of importing or exporting unmanifested cargo is liable to a maximum fine of $2 million and imprisonment for seven years.
Under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, anyone involved in dealing with, possession of, selling or buying illicit cigarettes commits an offence. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $1 million and imprisonment for two years.
Under the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021, any person who imports, promotes, manufactures, sells or possesses for commercial purposes ASPs, including electronic cigarette products, heated tobacco products, herbal cigarettes and any related devices, parts and accessories, commits an offence. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months.
Members of the public may report any suspected illicit cigarette activities to Customs' 24-hour hotline 2545 6182 or its dedicated crime-reporting email account (email@example.com).
Ends/Tuesday, July 5, 2022