Customs ups counterfeit trafficking enforcement - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Customs ups counterfeit trafficking enforcement

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by Nick Delgado

Guam - The investigation surrounding the importation and sell of illegal cigarettes on Guam between the Department of Revenue & Taxation and Guam Customs and Quarantine continues. And local authorities charged with ensuring these items do not make it on island are beefing up enforcement efforts, to battle what has become a billion dollar problem throughout the nation.

Earlier this year KUAM News uncovered a couple of local shops selling illegal cigarettes, packs that state are for domestic distribution only in countries like the Philippines. To top it off, the stores were selling the smokes for nearly half the price legitimate cigarettes are being sold for. "It's a growing problem now because of the recent tax increase. Cigarettes going from $3 to $6, so there's an active markets out there trying to make it so consumers can purchase it at less than if you were to try to buy legitimate cigarettes," said Customs Lieutenant Dwayne San Nicolas. 

He knows all too well about the problem, which is why he along with dozens of other customs agents are attending training this week to get a better handle on enforcement. The training was conducted by top management with Altria - the parent company of Philip Morris, based out of Virginia. It's a problem Chief Deputy Attorney General Phil Tydingco calls a growing billion-dollar business, as he said, "Ultimately that affects in many businesses the tax revenues like for example in Guam our sin tax goes towards funding healthy futures initiative, and so it's very important for us to enforce our laws to make certain our tax revenues are not affected by this."

And aside from affecting tax revenues, these illegal cigarettes could affect one's health. "But the problem with purchasing that kind of stuff is it avoids taxation and you don't know what type of quality goes into the manufacturer of these types of cigarettes," said San Nicolas.

During the seminars, Customs officers were taught how to tell the difference between what's real and what's fake. "What are the different ways people manufacturer them and how they try to import them so its really trying to educate the officers to try to recognize the types of importation the types of products being imported in terms of tobacco and determine or try to prohibit those types of contraband from actually entering the port," said San Nicolas.

While authorities continue to push just how much counterfeit trafficking is negatively impacting the economy, Tydingco warns the community of the law, saying, "They're provided for in law and we would go after them if there were any violation so for tax laws and we do have counterfeit and trademark laws in the books that are criminal in nature and certainly revenue and tax would have their civil penalties."

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