Tobacco smuggling is increasing in the southwestern border region (Photo: VNA)

Hanoi (VNA) - Tobacco smuggling is increasing in the southwestern border region to meet high demand for the upcoming Tet (Lunar New Year) festival.

Many smugglers can be seen transporting large amounts of cigarettes by motorbikes along border routes in the Mekong Delta provinces of An Giang and Dong Thap and Can Tho city. Smugglers are mainly jobless residents living on the border who know the area well and understand the countryside.

Despite difficult terrain and the efforts the authorities, smugglers still find ways to transport the merchandise to storage areas before taking them to the market for sale. Some routes taken are on tiny paths on the edges of rice fields, measuring just half a metre wide.

Nguyen Van Trung, acting director of Dong Thap province’s Market Watch Department, said although cigarette smuggling in the province is lower than last year, methods have become more sophisticated.

Cigarettes will be collected along the border areas and will be transported deeper into the country for consumption. The cigarettes will be transported by motorbikes or on foot to different storage units and then delivered to places to be sold on trains, boats, trucks or coaches, according to Trung.

Smugglers often have round-the-clock guards and operate late at night or early in the morning, making it difficult to catch them. The cigarettes are also divided into small packages for easier transport.

Deputy head of the provincial Border Guard Command’s Drug and Criminal Prevention and Control Office, Phan Duc Phung, said smugglers seem to operate to their full capacity when the Tet is coming.

The unit has plans in place to deal with smuggling, focusing on increasing inspections and patrols as well as educating local residents to not get involved.

However, old equipment, limited financial and human resources together with difficult terrain, particularly during floods, hinder efforts, he said.

According to experts, in the southern region, the amount of cigarettes smuggled into HCM City from the southwestern border account for up to 60-70 percent, mainly from Long An and Tay Ninh provinces.

Authorised forces in HCM City have increased inspections in terms of both human resources and frequency and coordinated with relevant authorities of these localities to handle the situation, but cigarette smuggling is still a major issue in the city.

Smuggling cigarettes has been a problem for a long time, causing losses to the State budget and posing high health risks because of the poor quality of the tobacco.

Thousands of billions of VND are lost each year to the State in tax and import duties, according to figures released by the Vietnam Tobacco Association.

Nguyen Khanh Quang, deputy director of the Customs General Department’s Anti-smuggling Division, said cooperation between authorised forces along border areas and authorities of inland areas such as border guards, police, customs officials and market watch forces plays an important role in beating the smugglers.

Loose cooperation would lead to the lack of information and ineffective prevention and control, he said, adding that it is also crucial to cooperate with relevant authorities in Cambodia to reduce smuggling of cigarettes across the border.

Head of the Vietnam Directorate of Market Surveillance Tran Huu Linh said working together would strengthen their cause.

It requires close coordination between authorised forces and it also needs clear management and direction to increase efficiency in the fight, Linh said.

Raising awareness and creating jobs for residents in border areas were also essential to prevent them from joining smuggling gangs, he added.-VNA