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Hike of ‘sin taxes’ could boost illicit trade in South Africa, tobacco executive warns

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Hike of 'sin taxes'

Fears have been raised that a planned hike in so-called “sin taxes” on products such as tobacco and alcohol in South Africa could play into the hands of smugglers.

During his budget speech in South Africa’s Parliament last Wednesday, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba announced that excise duty on alcohol and tobacco will increase by as much as 10% from April, in a move he hopes will raise an additional R1.3-billion ($111.5 million) for the country’s government.

Once the changes come into force, consumers can expect to pay an extra 8.5% in tax on a packet of cigarettes, and anything up to 10% on their alcoholic drink of choice.

Gigaba also added additional excise to “luxury goods” such as cars and mobile phones.

While some analysts suggested the price rise might be the nudge people need to give up unhealthy habits, others cautioned that such proportionality tax high increases in duty on alcohol and tobacco would only serve to fuel the black market.

Commenting on the proposed tax hikes, which are well above the current 4.4% inflation rate in South Africa, British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) executive Joe Heshu told Independent Online that a previous rise in sin taxes actually resulted in a decline in the amount of revenue collected by the Treasury.

“Drastically raising taxes on legally-produced cigarettes simply makes illicit products that evade tax even cheaper by comparison, and contributes to the growth of the illegal market”, he said.

“We expect the increase in tobacco excise tax announced by the minister to further stimulate the illicit trade in tobacco, which already results in a loss to the revenue of about R7 billion over the last four years.”

Earlier this month, BATSA revealed that nearly half (47%) of South Africa’s tobacco trade is controlled by illicit players, making it one of the largest markets for smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes in the world.

But while many critics observe that tobacco companies have a vested interest in keeping cigarette prices low and should not be trusted when they push evidence that suggests higher taxes boosts smuggling, evidence in some countries indicates that slapping higher duty on products such as alcohol and tobacco does drive consumers to the black market.

In November last year, the Nikkei Asian Review noted how a 40% rise in the tax paid on a pack of cigarettes had led to a massive increase in the availability of illegal imports.

Similarly, Border force officers in Australia, where the government wants to hike the price of a pack of cigarettes to A$40 (£31) a pack by 2020, seized record amounts of smuggled and counterfeit tobacco products last year.

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Drugs gangs recruiting pensioners to act as mules on cruise ships travelling between South America and Europe

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pensioners to act as mules on cruise ships

Police in Portugal have warned that drugs gangs are recruiting aging cruise line passengers to act as mules on ships travelling from South America and the Caribbean to Europe.

Speaking with Portuguese daily Correio da Manha after police arrested a British septuagenarian couple on suspicion of attempting to smuggle cocaine worth an estimated $2.5 million into Europe after returning from the Caribbean on a cruise liner, an official source said trafficking gangs are using elderly people as mules due to the fact they arouse less suspicion than younger passengers.

The source spoke out after it was revealed that married couple Roger and Susan Clarke, aged 72 and 70 respectively, were arrested by detectives in Lisbon after police there were tipped off by the UK’s National Crime Agency.

Portuguese investigators said they discovered a large quantity of cocaine “ingeniously” concealed in four suitcases in the pensioners’ cabin.

Police said the drugs were hidden in false bottoms that had been created inside the bags, and that the cocaine was evenly distributed between the four pieces of luggage.

It is believed the couple were handed the drugs while they were holidaying on a Caribbean island.

In comments given to Correio da Manha, Vitor Ananais, who led the investigation that led to the arrest of the pensioners, noted that the pair would have blended in well on the cruise liner, on which the majority of passengers were of a similar age.

He told the paper that the couple, who are reported to have gone on as many six cruises every year, did not protest their innocence after they were detained, and that they had said nothing about how the drugs came to be concealed in suitcases that were found in their cabin.

The couple were arrested at the boat’s penultimate stop before it reached its final docking point of Essex in the UK.

Ananais said: “We acted when we did rather than wait for a possible handover because we wanted to protect the investigation and ensure we seized the drugs.

“We do not know for sure at the moment where the cocaine was going to be brought ashore,” he added.

“We believe the couple were given the drugs in a Caribbean island but are still looking into which island at this stage.”

It was reported yesterday that both of the Clarkes have criminal records in the UK, and that they now live in Spain.

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Shoppers in Ireland warned to be on lookout for counterfeit cosmetics prior to Christmas

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counterfeit cosmetics

Irish consumers have been warned to exercise caution when purchasing “high-end” beauty products in the lead-up to Christmas.

Health regulators in the republic this morning cautioned that counterfeit beauty products sold through certain online and physical markets over the festive season could pose a potential serious threat to consumers’ health and safety.

Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and the Health Service Executive (HSE) said the availability of fake beauty products tends to peak in the country prior to Christmas, noting how a significant quantity of such items were seized by Irish customs officers last year.

The fake items, some of which purported to be from popular brands such as Urban Decay and Kylie Cosmetics by Kylie Jenner, were often purchased from websites based outside of the European Union or from sellers on social media.

Tests carried out on these products, many of which were eye shadow and lip colourants, revealed that some contained harmful substances such as lead and arsenic.

In addition to lead and arsenic, which is widely referred to the “king of poisons”, counterfeit cosmetic products have also been known to contain a number of other unpleasant substances including mercury, cyanide, paint-stripper and even faeces.

The consequences of using counterfeit cosmetics that contain some of these substances can include mild skin irritation, chemical burns and even long-term damage to the central nervous system and the brain, the latter of which may be permanent.

In a statement on the regulator’s website, Emer O’Neill, Cosmetics Product Manager at the HPRA, said: “We can’t emphasise enough the need for consumers to exercise caution and to be vigilant when purchasing cosmetics this Christmas.

“While it may be tempting to avail of cheaper prices, counterfeit products could cost you your health. Unfortunately, the Christmas season is generally the peak time of year for rogue sellers of counterfeit products, which are often found when purchasing products online or from temporary stalls or outlets.

“Shoppers are strongly urged to apply common sense and to ask themselves; if a product seems very cheap, is it really likely to be the genuine article? The danger of counterfeit products is that their quality and safety is not known.”

In advice on how to avoid purchasing counterfeit beauty products, the HPRA cautions consumers to steer clear of items on offer for considerably less money than they would typically cost if bought through a major retailer.

It also tells shoppers to physically examine potential counterfeit cosmetics where possible, looking out for anomalies such as uneven fill levels, faded packaging and misspellings on packaging or in information leaflets.

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Iran threatens to flood Europe with drugs and migrants following US sanctions

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Iran threatens to flood Europe with drugs

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has threatened to flood Europe with heroin, migrants and terrorists in revenge for sanctions imposed on the country by the US over Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme.

Addressing a six-nation counter-terrorism conference in Tehran attended by lawmakers from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, China and Russia over the weekend, Rouhani told delegates that crippling US sanctions would prevent Iran’s security services from stopping drug traffickers and people smugglers targeting western countries, noting how the criminal groups behind such trades are often linked to terrorist groups.

In a speech that was carried by state TV, Rouhani said: “Weakening Iran by sanctions, many will not be safe. Those who do not believe us, it is good to look at the map.”

He added: “Imagine what a disaster there would be if there is a breach in the dam.

“I warn those who impose sanctions that if Iran’s ability to fight drugs and terrorism are affected…, you will not be safe from a deluge of drugs, asylum seekers, bombs and terrorism.”

While Iran is by no means a major drug-producing nation, large quantities of opium pass through the country on major smuggling routes that link Afghanistan and Pakistan with Europe.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the primary ingredient of heroin, with Helmand Province, which is close to the border with Iran, being the country’s largest opium-producing region.

Iran claims to incinerate around 100 tonnes of seized drugs every year as a symbol of its determination to halt the flow of narcotics through trafficking routes that cross its borders.

In June 2017, Iranian media reported that drug addiction across the country had more than doubled over the previous six years, with research showing that approximately 2.8 million Iranians were regularly consuming drugs.

Iran also serves as a major hub on a number of people smuggling routes used by migrants looking to make their way to Turkey.

Many of these asylum seekers pay large sums of money to people smuggling gangs, some of which are thought to be closely linked to terrorist organisations.

Over recent weeks, scores of mostly Iranian migrants have been picked in flimsy boats while attempting to cross the English Channel from the French border town of Calais.

Rouhani said worsening economic conditions in Iran brought about by the sanctions had led to an increase in the number of migrants illegally crossing the border from Iran into Turkey since the summer.

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