Cigarette juggernaut British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa) has called for increased vigilance from the South African Police Service following a slew of armed robberies of cigarette products in transit.
Batsa says it is alarmed by the recent spike in armed robberies stoking organised crime and fueling the illicit trade of cigarettes. The company’s portfolio is comprised of 20 brands, including Dunhill, Lucky Strike and Peter Stuyvesant.
Since the Covid-19-induced cigarette sales ban was lifted in August last year, armed robberies of Batsa cigarettes in transit have soared in comparison to the first quarter of 2020, says general manager, Johnny Moloto.
In February 2020, Batsa reported four incidents of armed robberies compared to 12 in September 2020, a month after the ban on the trade of tobacco products was lifted.
“This alarming increase in criminals targeting our products should be of major concern to the authorities. The lockdown sales ban led to an explosion in the illicit trade and the increased involvement of organised crime syndicates.
‘Effect of economic hardship’
“Since the ban, we have seen a dramatic growth in the sale of illicit cigarettes in mainstream outlets, which can also be attributed to the economic hardship being suffered by South Africans.
“In the first quarter of 2020, armed robbers stole 1 195 cartons per month (239 000 individual cigarettes) of our product. When the ban was lifted, on a monthly average 2 845 cartons of cigarettes (569 000 individual cigarettes) were stolen during armed attacks on our distribution vehicles. And this, although we have increased security measures.”
Batsa continues to be transparent and supports all law enforcement activities in the prevention of crime, says Moloto.
“As is required by law in South Africa, all robberies against Batsa are reported to SAPS with the aim of achieving arrests of criminals targeting our business, as well as recovering stock and preventing it from entering the illicit supply chain.”
Moloto stresses that Batsa supports all efforts to combat the illicit market and is fully compliant with the latest production counter regulations, which should give SARS officials oversight of every cigarette made in South Africa.
“Batsa calls for all other cigarette manufacturers to comply with these regulations.”