Despite the sale of cigarettes being allowed in South Africa after they were banned last year, British American Tobacco SA (Batsa) on Tuesday said it was alarmed by a record increase in armed robberies of its products.
According to the company, the armed robberies are fuelling organised crime and the illicit trade in cigarettes in the country.
Batsa said since government lifted the ban on the sale of tobacco products, armed robberies of its cigarettes in transit have soared compared to incidents during the 1st quarter of 2020.
“Batsa notifies the South African Police Service (Saps) of all such crimes and is urging increased vigilance to counter this menace, which is a drain on the South African fiscus as well as Batsa’s operating revenues,” Batsa said in a statement.
The company’s general manager, Johnny Moloto, said the increase in criminals targeting their products should be of major concern to the authorities.
“In Q1 2020, armed robbers stole 1,195 cartons per month (239,000 individual cigarettes) of our products. We, obviously, had no robberies during the tobacco sales ban as we were not transporting products.
“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,” Moloto said.
Batsa said in February last year, the last full month before the lockdown ban on tobacco products, there were four such robberies. And in September, the first full month after the ban was lifted, there were 12 robberies recorded.
The company said it had reported a year-on-year drop in the incidence of armed robberies in the two years before 2020, which could be attributed to increased protection measures it put in place.
“The lockdown sales ban led to an explosion in the illicit trade and the increased involvement of organised crime syndicates,” said Moloto said.
“The ban also normalised the purchase of illicit cigarettes by South Africa’s 11 million smokers. 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.”
(Compiled by Thapelo Lekabe)