Cigarette Thefts Rising

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Cigarette Thefts Rising

RALEIGH, N.C. -- If a current burglary pattern continues, area police chiefs may have to issue a Surgeon General-like warning to Triangle convenience store owners: Unsecured cigarette displays can be harmful to your profits, according to The (N.C.) News & Observer.

"We have been seeing a trend in cigarette burglaries lately," said Lt. Rick Grayson with the Raleigh Police Department's Property Crimes Unit. "Actually, we've been seeing an increase in cigarette burglaries all year long."

The high cost of a pack of smokes only partly explains the numbers of burglaries in North Carolina. Raleigh, Cary and Chapel Hill have all reported increases in residential and commercial burglaries, including attempted burglaries, for the first seven months of this year compared with a similar period in 2001. Durham figures remained about the same, according to police statistics.

Authorities blame a slumping economy and population growth of about 3 percent, coupled with an expansion in dwellings and businesses.

But the rise in cigarette prices has created a lucrative black market that's helping to fuel an increase in commercial burglaries. The crimes are typically committed by thieves who want cash to buy drugs, authorities said.

Cigarettes that normally sell for $30 a carton and $900 a case are available on the black market for $10 a carton and $600 a case, Grayson said.

The cigarette of choice? Newport.

In a recent string of such burglaries, bandits used cinder blocks to smash storefront windows and gain entry, Grayson said. Two Apex, N.C. men were arrested and 10 cash register drawers were recovered last week in connection with a string of early morning convenience store break-ins.

Police officials in Cary, Wake County, Raleigh, Holly Springs and Apex noticed a pattern of "smash and grabs" in the early morning hours since mid-July. Among the items taken were beer and cigarettes, according to court records.