In preparation for this conference, I came across the shocking statistic that the illicit cigarette trade costs the South African government around R5-billion a year in lost revenue.
It certainly supports the fact that the tobacco industry is not under threat by anti-tobacco lobby groups, but rather the illicit trade of tobacco.
I do not profess to be an expert on the illicit trade of tobacco, but the problem of transnational and organised crime is a constant thorn in the side of organisations that seek to combat crime.
We recently hosted the Crime Stoppers International Conference here in Cape Town, and there was not a category of crime that didn’t have tentacles reaching out to other parts of the world or didn’t have an element of highly organised networks of criminals.
As for the crime itself, it is rarely uncomplicated.
It often marries itself with a variety of other serious criminal activities.
From a media perspective, you don’t often hear much about the illicit trade of tobacco.
Or rather any significant arrests of syndicates or the destruction of cigarettes seized during special operations.
The level of corruption and bribery seems to be a constant theme where the illicit trade of tobacco is concerned.
Authorities and more worryingly, state security agencies, have been implicated in accepting bribes from syndicates operating in South Africa.
There is no doubt that our country has a major problem with crime.
This is further exacerbated by corruption.
For most of you here the statistics, trends and challenges of the illicit tobacco trade is not news.
However, for the majority of South Africans the illicit tobacco trade does not attract shock, horror or outrage.
On par with copyright theft, people generally don’t regard it is a “serious” crime and believe that it is only a crime on those who are already making disgusting amounts of money.
Even rhino poaching is often regarded as a “white issue”, not realising the far-reaching implications.
On the surface it doesn’t seem like it is impacting the man on the street or affecting his pocket directly.
The story they don’t see is the widespread corruption of authorities.
It doesn’t reflect on the impact on our economy and its ability to invest money in service delivery and infrastructure.
It doesn’t show the trafficking of weapons, human beings, drugs or even murder.
It certainly doesn’t show the breakdown of our moral fabric as society.
When we allow it, we condone it.
Ladies and gentleman,
Perception is everything.
How do you change what people think about the illicit tobacco trade?
Keeping in mind the anti-tobacco lobbyists, an advertising ban and a thriving market that allows people to buy cigarettes on the cheap.
How do you begin to tackle these challenges?
Let’s talk about demand.
Like most criminal industries, the popular solution is to cut down on demand.
How do you influence a consumer to buy a pack of legal cigarettes at around R35 instead of an illegal pack at R10 or less?
Trawling through the internet, compelling information on the illicit trade is scarce and largely available from British American Tobacco (BAT).
Let me show you two BAT examples:
The first offers an emotive dramatization of how illegal cigarettes are used to find other criminal enterprises – in this case the human trafficking for sex trade.
The second is more educational, seeking to illustrate the cost, the health implications, and the loss to economies and so on.
If I didn’t go looking for it, I wouldn’t have known.
Now let’s look at a WildAid commercial that is currently targeting China in a bid to stem demand.
It has all the makings of a compelling public service message – a local celebrity, drama, facts and a compelling call to action.
Yes, anti-rhino poaching is a far better sell than the illegal trade of cigarettes.But as BAT has shown you have all the ingredients to show that consumers should not regard it as a, and I quote, “victimless crime”.
How these messages are disseminated to consumers is the next challenge.
When you cut away all traditional forms of advertising, you need to make the news, take advantage of digital and engage with grassroots on a regular basis.
The seizure of illegal cigarettes should be followed up by swift destruction, quantifying what the cache would have “cost” if it hit the streets.
Make it personal.
Use digital repetitively to remind people of the real cost of the illegal trade of cigarettes.
Don’t leave room for people to overshadow these messages with anti-tobacco rhetoric.
You need to know who you are talking to.
What does the average illegal cigarette consumer look like?
How do you reach them?
Where do they get their information from?
More importantly, how can you influence their choice between legal and illegal cigarettes?
Ladies and gentleman,
I can’t stress enough how important education is.
Through my work with Crime Line, we have pretty much seen and heard it all.
The consensus is that people are sick of crime.
But they are also selective about what crimes they are sick of.
These are naturally crimes that affect these individuals directly.
Scaremongering is a futile tactic, instead, allowing people to take the facts and reach a decision about how it affects their lives can have a far more sustainable impact.
We need to give people the power to stand up for themselves.
There needs to be a clear call to action.
There needs to be regular feedback and tangible results.
The vision of Crime Line has always been to give people an alternative and independent avenue to report illegal activity anonymously.
Two partnerships come to mind that were initially met with resistance – the one I have mentioned, copyright theft and the other is electricity theft.
Together with Operation Khanyisa and the South African Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT) we continued to push, educate and give feedback.
It is starting to pay dividends.
It shows in the number of tip-offs we receive and where we usually got negative feedback, people are joining the discussions more.
This is the movement that is happening in South Africa at the moment.
More and more people are taking responsibility.
We’ve recently seen two consumers take to outdoor advertising to make their sentiments known about poor service delivery.
We should learn from this.
Don’t take consumers for granted. They are not stupid.
Be honest, concise, brief, determined and driven towards a common purpose.
Ladies and gentleman,
As an industry you have the responsibility to put pressure on government to take the illicit trade of tobacco seriously.
The fact that our authorities and state security agencies are so corruptible is not just bad news for you, but for all of us.
Arrests and seizures mean absolutely nothing if there are no real consequences. Again, I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard in the news about someone being convicted for this specific crime.
I also ask myself, when last did I hear about illegal cigarettes being destroyed? Alcohol – yes. Dagga – yes. What happens to these seizures?
Our government has gone to great lengths to legislate around smoking and to some extent even the illicit trade.
However, it’s easier to sell illegal cigarettes in broad daylight than it is to smoke a cigarette in certain public spaces.
This is why your community needs to be whistleblowers.
In the case of SAFACT, they work closely with the police to clamp down on informal traders selling fake DVDs and CDs.
Acting on tip-offs to Crime Line and Crime Stop they carry out operations several times a week.
They also report back on arrests, seizures, destructions and more importantly, convictions.
The public loves to hear about convictions.
It means that someone was caught, charged, prosecuted and punished.
This is the ultimate follow-through.
Ladies and gentleman,
Over the next two days, I’m sure you will learn everything about the illicit trade to take home to your respective organisations.
I hope that you will take this knowledge and apply it with renewed vigour towards sending a clear message to the entire supply chain – we are coming for you and we will find you.
I thank you.