According to the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong customs officials seized more than 650 million illegal cigarettes in 2023, worth HK$2.25 billion (US$288 million).
It is reported that this is the largest annual cash value of seized cigarettes in more than 20 years and the largest tax loss. According to sources, the seized cigarettes will generate tax revenue of HK$1.54 billion (US$197 million).
Sources also said customs officials will now step up efforts to crack down on smugglers to stop them hoarding counterfeit cigarettes, as tobacco taxes are expected to rise.
"We don't think they will take the risk of stockpiling large quantities of smuggled cigarettes for a month or two to prepare for possible tax increases," the source said. "Once we intercept the illegal goods or find them in storage centers in the city, they will suffer A heavy blow, facing total loss.”
Government statistics show the street value of confiscated tobacco products rose 12% in 2023 compared with the previous year. Although the value of the seized tobacco products was higher, reaching NT$732 million, the number of confiscated cigarettes was actually lower.
Another source said that about 60% of illegal cigarettes confiscated in 2023 were destined for Hong Kong, claiming that smugglers used a "merry-go-round" method to move illegal cigarettes between several countries. Avoid being discovered before finding a buyer.
"Duty-free tobacco products are transported through different ports in Asia and the Middle East and then smuggled to their final destination," he said.
In Hong Kong, importing or exporting unlicensed products is punishable by up to seven years in prison and a fine of HK$2 million. Those caught selling illegal cigarettes face up to two years in prison and a fine of HK$1 million.