Fewer youngsters nabbed for illegal cigs

Fewer youngsters nabbed for illegal cigs

Fewer young people were caught with contraband cigarettes last year.

There were 518 youngsters below the age of 18 nabbed by the Singapore Customs last year for possessing duty-unpaid cigarettes, down from 728 in 2012.

The number of under-18s caught for smoking, buying or having tobacco products also fell, from 6,607 in 2009 to 5,311 last year.

Possessing contraband cigarettes includes buying, smoking or selling duty-unpaid cigarettes, but the Customs spokesman did not give the breakdown of buyers or sellers caught.

Last year, Customs seized 2.9 million packets of contraband cigarettes and caught 6,400 buyers - up from 1.5 million packs seized and 6,248 buyers nabbed in 2012.

Youngsters caught are counselled by Customs officers, their parents and schools are informed, and they are also sent to the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), which can fine them up to $300 for buying, smoking or possessing tobacco products.

Rising prices and the ongoing clampdown on retailers who sell cigarettes to underaged smokers, have led some students to buy contraband cigarettes which are half the price of the duty-paid ones. Some of them sell to other youngsters too.

Last month, cigarette prices rose after tobacco levies were raised by 10 per cent.

Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, said the teen cigarette peddlers usually start off as customers of contraband syndicate peddlers. Over time, they end up as low-level peddlers themselves, selling to their friends and other youngsters.

"Some of them even approach young smokers they don't know outside schools and at places where students hang out to sell their cigarettes," she added.

Social workers said most of the young peddlers are not part of any syndicate but are just out to make some easy money.

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