THE tobacco industry will offer rewards of up to $50,000 for information leading to mass seizures of smuggled cigarettes in an effort to crack down on the burgeoning black market. The new scheme comes in response to a sharp rise in the illicit trade, with more than 38 million cigarettes seized this year compared to just over 15 million in 1992. The rewards, which come into effect in the New Year, will be funded by the Hong Kong Tobacco Institute (HKTI) and operated by the Customs Department. The chairman of the HKTI, Jenny Fung Ma Kit-han, claimed cigarette smuggling cut the tobacco industry's revenue by about 30 per cent every year. A packet of cigarettes with government duty costs about $23 compared to about $9 on the black market. Mrs Fung said: ''We have decided to introduce this reward scheme in direct response to the growing problem of cigarette smuggling in the hope that it will provide useful information.'' Anyone who provides specific information leading to a seizure of more than one million cigarettes will get a cash reward of $20,000, while a seizure of more than two million cigarettes will carry a reward of $50,000. Acting Deputy Commissioner of Customs and Excise Lawrence Li Shu-fai said: ''We hope to get more information than in the past on where smuggled cigarettes are being stored, where they come from and who owns them.'' The Customs and Excise Department increased its own rewards for information on cigarette smuggling leading to successful prosecutions to a maximum of $100,000 in March this year. Anyone who provides information leading to a seizure of more than one million cigarettes and a successful prosecution will be entitled to both rewards. But Mrs Fung stressed that as long as the duty on cigarettes was relatively high in Hong Kong smuggling would always exist. ''There was no cigarette smuggling here until the Government duty on them was increased, and while that tax differential exists the smuggling will continue,'' she said. Smuggled cigarettes enter Hong Kong from all over the Southeast Asia region, but the majority come from China, where tobacco is considerably cheaper. A spokesman for the Council on Smoking and Health said he welcomed any measure to crack down on smuggling and curb the sale of cheaper cigarettes. Council member Dr David Lee Ka-yan said: ''This is a purely commercial decision by the tobacco industry, but we would support any move which might promote less smoking. ''If cheaper cigarettes are not available then fewer people would smoke, although I doubt that the amount of money on offer will be enough to attract information from people involved in smuggling.''