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    Cigarette Thefts on the Rise

    Robbers ignore cash, grab smokes in stores, Louisiana police say.

    Convenience store robbers increasingly are choosing cigarettes over cash in holdups in Baton Rouge.

    According to police, robbers left an open cash register untouched at a Circle K convenience store in Baton Rouge, grabbing 15 cartons of smokes instead. "They weren?t even interested in taking the money," police spokesman Don Kelly told the Baton Rouge Advocate.

    It was the third time this year that store has been hit by cigarette bandits. Kelly said cigarette heists are becoming more common as cigarette prices increase and a black market for cheaper cigarettes expands.

    Most of the robberies here have been simple or first-degree robberies in which no weapon was seen. But last week a man with a tire iron was in a group that stole a couple hundred cartons of cigarettes from a delivery truck outside another Baton Rouge Circle K store.

    And on July 1, one of four men involved in a cigarette robbery from an Airline Highway gas station did have a gun, police said. Kelly claims robbers have learned that cigarettes can be more lucrative than the small amounts of cash convenience stores keep on hand.

    It also appears that some of the cigarette robbers may be selling the stolen goods to unscrupulous stores and bars that resell them to consumers, Kelly said. So far, no Baton Rouge store has been caught doing that recently, said Murphy Painter, commissioner of the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. But cases have been made against stores in New Orleans.

    Kelly said detectives will arrest store operators caught accepting stolen cigarettes. To the honest store operators, Kelly said detectives suggest limiting how many cartons of cigarettes are available behind the counter to try to deter the attacks, but Jeff Lenard of the National Association of Convenience Stores said that can hurt business.

    Lenard said cigarette customers want their regular brand and typically won?t come back more than once to a store that doesn?t have it consistently. That means stores need to maintain fairly large stocks to satisfy customer demand. Cigarettes are the top-selling item in convenience stores, accounting for more than a third of all sales, he said. According to the 2001 Convenience Store News Industry Report, stores average $312,000 per year in cigarette sales alone.

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