South Africa destroys cartons of illegal and illicit cigarettes

The Citizen, 23 June 2021

By Marizka Coetzer (

According to Sars customs data, the export value of tobacco products increased from R14.24 billion in 2019 to R15.87 billion in 2020.

Cartons of illicit cigarettes were turned into confetti yesterday when the South African Revenue Service (Sars) destroyed illegal products seized at various borders in South Africa earlier this year.

Yesterday, representatives from the SA Police Service, South African National Defence Force, Road Traffic Inspectorate, Tshwane Metro Police, Johannesburg Metro Police Department and Interpol were among those at the Lehae la Sars building in Pretoria to witness the destruction of illegal cigarettes.

Patrick Tshikosi, the executive for border control operations and international customs, yesterday said a 2015 study by the World Health Organisation estimated that one in 10 cigarettes come from illicit trade.

During the demonstration, the petrol-driven mobile hammer mill was switched on and cartons of cigarettes were shredded into tiny pieces of paper and tobacco within a matter of seconds.

The mill used on the day was one of three mills located in Gauteng, Limpopo, and KwaZulu-Natal warehouses for the disposal process for seized cigarettes.

Beyers Theron, director of customs border operations, ports of entry and customs compliance, explained that the cigarettes destroyed were either illicitly imported or manufactured in South Africa.

Theron said methods used to import illicit goods such as cigarettes included smuggling, ghost exports and round-tripping, under-invoicing, abuse of duty-free import concessions and misdeclarations.

Other sectors impacted by illicit trade include clothing, textiles, leather and footwear, fuel, poultry, second-hand vehicles, gold and scrap metal.

“The conclusion that many have drawn is that illicit trade is very closely tied to other forms of organised crime, including drug smuggling, gun-running, and human trafficking,” Theron said.

Theron said the destruction was an example of Sars’ determination on its part to make it hard and costly for those who do not comply with their tax and customs obligations.

According to Sars customs data, the export value of tobacco products increased from R14.24billion in 2019 to R15.87 billion in 2020.

“The impact of the Covid-19 hard lockdown restrictions was reflected in the steep year-on-year decline in export values in April 2020. Export values rebounded significantly between May and August year-on-year,” Theron said.

He said based on their customs enforcement statistics, customs officials across the country affected 1 150 seizures equating to 181 668 974 sticks in the 2020- 2021 financial year estimated at R219 870 354 and R92 182 of seized tobacco, amounting to a potential prejudice in duties and VAT estimated at over R163 million.

“This is more than 100% increase against the previous financial year that yielded 445 seizures with a value of R102.5 million,” Theron said.

He added the most cigarette seizures occurred at Beit Bridge, Grobler’s Bridge, Kopfontein, Lebombo and Skilpadshek border posts.

Source: The Citizen