GEORGE TOWN - More than a billion sticks of smuggled cigarettes worth RM86.74milliion (S$32.3 million)were seized in the country in the first three months of the year.
Under the Customs Department's Ops Outlet crackdown on the contraband, 40,498 shops were raided during that period.
"The objective of Ops Outlet is to put a stop to the distribution chain and sale of smuggled cigarettes by distributors and sundry shops," said Customs Department director-general Datuk Seri Khazali Ahmad at the launch of Ops Outlet 2.0 on Thursday.
A total of 6,295 people have been detained for allegedly dealing in illegal cigarettes, he said, adding that 2,202 of the detainees were charged in court.
Illegal cigarettes smuggled into the country are sold at between RM3.50 and RM5.
The country has lost nearly RM1.9bil due to cigarette smuggling.
Khazali said those who tip off the authorities on contraband cigarette activities would receive cash rewards, Earlier this week, two foreigners were arrested at two outlets in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, for selling illegal John, Canyon and U2 cigarettes.
Under Section 135(1)(d) of the Customs Act, those caught selling illegal cigarettes can be jailed up to three years, fined up to 20 times the value of the seized items, or both.
"The number of smokers in Malaysia has also increased from 3.1 million in 2007 to 4.7 million last year, due to the availability of cheap illegal cigarettes," said Khazali.
He cautioned that illegal cigarettes contained 200 per cent more tar than the permitted amount of 45mg, citing research by Universiti Malaya.