SINGAPORE - A total of 152 people were caught with contraband cigarettes in a three-day operation by Singapore Customs to clamp down on duty-unpaid smokes, with more smokers buying such cigarettes last year.
The islandwide operation, conducted earlier in the week, covered commercial areas, industrial estates, heartlands and a foreign workers' dormitory in places like Tampines, Woodlands and Jurong.
About 170 packets of duty-unpaid cigarettes were seized. The offenders were issued with composition sums ranging from $500 to $1,200, while the amount of duty and Goods and Services Tax (GST) evaded came to about $695 and $51 respectively.
Last year, the number of people caught for buying contraband cigarettes increased to 5,846 from 5,184 in 2016, according to Singapore Customs. It had been on a downward trend since 2013, when the number of people caught was 6,400.
To tackle the demand for these cheaper cigarettes, Singapore Customs conducts islandwide enforcement operations against both street peddlers and buyers.
"The coordinated efforts of enforcement agencies and the partnership with the private sector are vital in Singapore Customs' fight against duty-unpaid cigarettes," said Mr Yeo Ban Meng, the head of the Suppression and Community Engagement Branch at Singapore Customs.
Possessing or dealing in duty-unpaid goods are serious offences under the Customs Act and the Goods and Services Tax Act.
The composition sum for a first-time offender who has up to one packet of duty-unpaid cigarettes in his possession is $500. Heavier penalties will apply if he is found with more than one packet of duty-unpaid cigarettes and/or if he is a repeat offender.
With a 10 per cent increase in the tobacco tax in February, the draw of duty-unpaid cigarettes continues to be its lower cost, according to smokers.
One offender, who was fined $500, said a pack of duty-unpaid cigarettes cost $6.50, nearly half the price of a pack of duty-paid cigarettes for between $12 and $13.
"This is the first time (that I smoked duty-unpaid cigarettes) and I thought they would give a warning," he said. "I tried to gamble but I can't gamble anymore."