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    Georgia Store Break-Ins Increasing

    Sharp rise in the price of cigarettes and alcohol primary cause.

    ATHENS, Ga. -- The convenience store tobacco burglary is a crime routine in its frequency and mode of operation in Athens Ga. So far this month, two area convenience stores were taken for $3,500 in cigarettes and cigars in the span of five days, according to the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald.

    "When there's a store burglary, tobacco has always been a desired item by those breaking in because it's very marketable -- it's a street currency," said Jim Tudor, president of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores (GACS). "They're not breaking into your store to steal bubble gum."

    As the price of cigarettes has risen dramatically, so has their black market value, Tudor said. According to one study, the average price of cigarettes rose from $1.69 a pack in 1993 to $2.92 per pack in 1999 and $3.37 a pack in 2001. Federal tobacco taxes went up 15 cents during that span, to 39 cents, and the average state tax on a pack of cigarettes is now 47 cents. Much of the dramatic price hikes instituted by cigarette makers is directly related to the 1997 multi-billion-dollar tobacco settlement.

    "It's almost like gasoline -- as the price goes up, we see more gas drive-offs," Tudor said.

    Local convenience store operators indicated that crooks may now prefer burglaries over convenience store armed robberies because of new measures taken to reduce a store's cash on hand through regular safe drops, the report said.

    And when someone breaks into a convenience store after hours, they aren't likely to get their hands on much cash then, either -- unless they can crack a safe in less time than it takes for police to respond to the alarm.

    Most convenience store burglars don't have that kind of time. They break in, get the goods and are out in less than a minute. Relatively lightweight for their value, dozens of cartons of Winstons, Kools and Marlboros can be stuffed into a trash bag with little effort. The next most popular item for burglars is lottery tickets, but a store owner can invalidate those once they're discovered stolen.

    Convenience stores are at least carrying less cigarettes than they did 10 years ago. Price scanning technology has allowed store operators to keep better tabs on their inventories of brands and avoid overstocking slow-selling smokes. That, at least, reduces the potential for loss, Tudor said.

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