Cigarette thief
This surveillance photo shows the suspect in five recent break-ins on Madison's east side.

Cigarettes have suddenly become a hot item for burglars.

More than 100 cartons of smokes valued at up to $7,500 have been stolen from businesses on Madison's east side since Aug. 20, police reported. The thieves reportedly are shattering glass doors, grabbing cartons of cigarettes and fleeing before police arrive.

Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said this cigarette crime wave is part of a national trend. The state's cigarette tax went up by 75 cents a pack on Sept. 1, which also is playing a role in the cigarette heists.

The break-ins all have taken place early in the morning and are possibly the work of the same burglar.

The first was reported at 2:33 a.m. Aug. 20 at the Walgreens store at 2909 E. Washington Ave. The others were reported at 1:55 a.m. Sept. 3 at the Walgreens at 4518 Cottage Grove Road; 3:33 a.m. Sept. 3 at DB's Service Center, 902 Atlas Ave.; 2:17 a.m. Sept. 14 at the Walgreens at 108 Cottage Grove Road; and 3:41 a.m. Sept. 14 at DB's Service Center.

Police officers arrived on the scene in each case one or two minutes after the calls came in and weren't able to catch the crook or crooks.

"The perpetrator is described as a young black male, medium build, often seen wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, and usually wears gloves and covers his face with either a scarf or mask," DeSpain said.

In the most recent case on Sept. 14, the suspect was seen fleeing on a bicycle, and the bike was found and seized by police.

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