Special Report: Cigarettes and Smoke Bandits - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Cigarettes and Smoke Bandits

By Karen Cohilas - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) – Desperate times call for desperate measures. As more people find themselves out of work, they are turning to crime to help pay the bills and preying on addicts to make a sale.

The black market is becoming a more common place to find legal items that have become too expensive for some people to pay.

It's an addiction that can seem almost impossible to overcome. "There are a lot of studies that say nicotine addiction, can be even more addictive than cocaine."

Yet addiction Counselor Andy Martin doesn't treat people for nicotine use. "I have had absolutely zero people come to me in the last three years for help with tobacco addiction."

That's likely because smoking is socially acceptable, at least more so than illegal or prescription drug abuse.

But some people are now getting their fix in a way that's not so acceptable. Taxes have driven up the price of tobacco products.

They are now so valuable, people are stealing them from stores and selling them on the black market.

Earlier this month, someone drove a stolen car into the Quick Buys store on Sylvester Road.

When they left, they took a garbage can full of cigarettes with them. Manager Peter Patel says he knows what they're up to. "They came inside, grabbed the cigarettes, all the cigarettes. They're selling on the streets."

He blames the economy for the increase in store cigarette burglaries. "I think 'cause they lose their job. No job for everybody."

So they make their own.  "They have their clientele already ready and available when they commit a crime. Just make a phone call and say, 'Hey, I got what you need" and they make their transaction." said APD Lt. James Williams.

Because where there is demand, there will always be supply. "There are some creative entrepreneurs."

They strike again and again, taking carton after carton, pack after pack.

"these criminals recognize that it's a pretty lucrative market, especially with cigarettes being more expensive now than ever. If they can break in and get them illegally and sell them for a reduced price they're probably going to have a pretty good business."

But they often don't sell them for less... they just divide the packs, and prey on addicts to pay whatever price they set. "You get one cigarette for a dollar," said Williams. "It depends on how bad that person needs that cigarette."

A carton of cigarettes can cost as much as $45 in the store. When you consider each carton contains 200 cigarettes, thieves can make $200 per carton and when they steal dozens of cartons, they can make thousands of dollars.

A price store owners often have to pay, losing out on money they would have gotten for selling the cigarettes, and spending money to repair their stores. "I had to fix the door and put in a post right there. It cost me $1,000," Patel said.

Patel has now fixed his store, but the burglaries haven't stopped. Thieves are targeting other stores to get the merchandise they need.

"The people that are stealing cigarettes and selling it, selling cigarettes to people that are addicted to nicotine, that's the power behind it, it's just supply and demand."

A demand that keeps these smoke bandits at work. Police tell us next to cigarettes, Flat Screen TV's and guns are also hot items thieves are targeting right now.

Anyone who knows who's breaking into the stores or has information about any of the burglaries should contact Crimestoppers.

That number is 229-436-TIPS.


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