WATCH: A cigarette peddler along Lorong 6 Geylang making a “smoking” sign to potential buyers (Video: Yahoo Singapore/Safhras Khan)
A middle-aged looking man rode and stopped his electrical bicycle by the roadside of Lorong 6 Geylang on a humid afternoon. He paused for a moment before alighting from his vehicle and started talking loudly via a Bluetooth earpiece.
Speaking in a foreign language, the casually dressed man looked around before opening a plastic bag in a basket, which was mounted on his e-bike.
Keeping his eye on the road, the man took out a few packets of cigarettes, which were believed to be smuggled in from Indonesia. He stood by the roadside, waving at passing motorists and gesturing that he was a cigarette peddler. The man would put two fingers to his lips to make the “smoking” signal.
A few motorists slowed down their vehicles, and they handed cash to the man for several packets of cigarettes before driving off. During the transactions, the man would look to his left and right a few times.
Throughout the 20 minutes that this reporter was there, more than 10 transactions were made amid the hustle and bustle along the street. Passers-by did not bat an eyelid as the man went about his business blatantly.
A younger man riding on an e-bike pulled up next to the middle-aged peddler. The latter handed a few cartons of cigarettes to the younger man, who didn’t hand over any cash and quickly rode off.
Playing hide and seek
A market consultant, who wished to remain anonymous, told this reporter that the men were from Vietnam and work for local syndicates.
“It is all very well organised. The cigarette peddlers operate on e-bikes as it is faster for them to move from place to place,” said the consultant.
The consultant added that the syndicates also placed scouts at strategic spots in Lorong 6, 16 and 20 Geylang, all of which are “hotspots” for peddlers.
“They (scouts) are there to alert the peddlers of the authorities. They use an app that functions like a walkie talkie. Once they spot the authorities, they would use the app to alert one another.
“They will then disappear but only for a while. As soon as the authorities are gone, they are back at their spots. It is like a game of cat and mouse,” said the consultant with a smile.
Yahoo Singapore understands that the cigarettes are smuggled into the Republic from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
With cigarette prices rising in Singapore, cheaper contraband cigarettes are getting more popular, according to the consultant. A packet of contraband cigarettes goes for between $6 and $7 – a huge saving of around $5 or more, compared with a legitimate packet.
A raid taking place
The peddler in Geylang was still doing a brisk business more than half an hour after stopping his e-bike.
A couple approached the peddler and was about to make their purchase when the peddler pushed them away. He mounted his bicycle quickly and rode off while the couple looked shocked.
Seconds later, a van approached the area and armed auxiliary officers dismounted and surveyed the area. Two officers were seen checking the drains and a rubbish bin while two others were walking in the area looking for peddlers.
The officers spoke to one another before they got into their vehicle and drove off after inspecting the area for 10 minutes.
Contraband cigarette “hotspot” in Yew Tee
Another popular spot for contraband cigarette peddlers is the Yew Tee Industrial Estate, according to the consultant. The industry area is “controlled” by Indonesian peddlers, who hawk their cigarette cartons by a canal located behind some workshops, he said.
This reporter recently took a trip to the area. Apart from the workshops, there were a few coffeeshops and grocery stores there.
WATCH: Two peddlers at a canal near Yew Tee Industrial Estate waiting for buyers (Video: Yahoo Singapore/Safhras Khan)
Two peddlers appeared at the canal and one of them was holding a cigarette carton. Approaching the latter, the reporter spoke to him in Bahasa Indonesia. The peddler, who identified himself as Ateng, was selling a packet of contraband cigarettes for $6.
Ateng said that he came to Singapore from Batam on a social visa and had been here for a week or so. The peddler said he frequently visits Singapore and has been doing the business for a while.
“I come in to sell the cigarettes and then head back. I do it to make some money,” Ateng said, adding that business is still holding up despite the occasional raids by the authorities.
Ateng said he is facing a supply shortage of menthol cigarettes due to “very high” demand and raids. His supply comes from Johor Bahru but he declined to reveal how the cigarettes are smuggled into Singapore.
“But if you are really keen, call me soon and I will tell you when the supply is in,” he said and offered his contact number to this reporter.
Unlike in Geylang, the peddlers at Yew Tee did not ride on e-bikes and were operating out of a forested area near the estate, according to the consultant.
Most buyers of the contraband cigarettes appeared to be foreign workers.
When asked about the location of his stock, Ateng refused to reveal and instead tried to convince this reporter to buy a carton of cigarettes from him.
“It is easier for you to buy a carton, cheaper too and you don’t have to come back here for a while to get your stock,” he said.