Vietnamese authorities are moving to crack down on cigarette smuggling, expecting a surge in the illegal activity ahead of the Lunar New Year (Tet) festival.

Truong Quang Hoai Nam , director of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Market Watch Department, said smuggling methods had become increasingly sophisticated with smugglers setting up vast trans-national networks. Statistics showed that up to 20 percent of cigarettes are illegally smuggled, with Vietnam being a significant market for the goods, he said.

Figures from the Vietnam Tobacco Association also revealed that there were more than 100 cigarette brands smuggled into Vietnam, 90 percent of which comprised Jet and Hero brand goods. Smuggled cigarettes were mostly imported from China, Laos, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The activities have caused a 20-25 percent dent to State budget revenues each year, of which the tobacco industry is obliged to pay to the Government. Smuggling activities were also responsible for lost earnings of around 17,000 tonnes of tobacco and around 550,000 jobs.

Pham Kien Nghiep, the association's general secretary, said domestic cigarette producers and trading companies had been seriously affected by smuggling activities in terms of market share, turnover and profit.

Illegal cigarette smugglers are said to earn profits 30 times higher than when products are imported legally, Nghiep said. He added that localities could do more to prevent smuggling, while people in border areas had been unaware of their activities in transporting smuggled cigarettes.

"It was the reason that only 1 percent of smuggled cigarette seized and destroyed though market watch forces, police, customs offices have been active in preventing the activities," he explained.

He suggested the Government increase incentives for authorities to 15 cents for each confiscated cigarette, urging that Vietnam needed to cooperate with Cambodia and Laos to prevent cigarette smuggling across common borders.

Nguyen Viet The, head of the Market Watch Department in central Quang Tri province, said smugglers often hired poor and unemployed people to carry cigarettes into the domestic market. He said smugglers divided their goods into smaller amounts to avoid being caught by authorities.

In the past five years, the province seized only 300,000 packs of smuggled cigarettes with a total value of 4 billion VND (190,470 USD). The said local authorities should closely co-operate with market management boards and other authorities to tackle the issue.-VNA