The Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control

‘Blood cigarettes’ smuggled in east, central Africa

The activities of rebel groups and corruption in governments that also lack capacity, not differing levels of taxation in neighbouring states, are the main reasons for tobacco smuggling in eastern and central Africa, according to an article published in the journal Tobacco Control.

Based on more than 400 interviews conducted by Dr Kristof Titeca of the University of Antwerp from 2005 to 2010, with smugglers, government and customs officials and others, the article analyses the trade in smuggled cigarettes between Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Although cigarette prices in those countries are low (US$0.6 per pack for the most popular brand), the easy avoidance of taxation fuels the smuggling by traders who work in cooperation with rebel groups, the article says.

The argument made by British American Tobacco that unequal tax levels in neighbouring countries sparked the smuggling is inaccurate, the article concludes.

The article suggests that 15-20 percent (300-400 million cigarettes) of the annual Ugandan market of two billion cigarettes is smuggled into the country. This represents an annual tax loss of around US$4 million.

Environment for rebels

Such smuggling also creates an environment for the trafficking of weapons in the region by rebels, who are also engaged in major human rights abuses such as executing and torturing political opponents, summary executions and the abduction of children to use as child soldiers, says the article, quoting a United Nations expert group. “Thus the income derived from trading activities, including cigarette smuggling, financed a movement that committed human rights abuses,” concludes the article, which is titled Blood cigarettes: cigarette smuggling and war economies in central and eastern Africa.  

Comprehensive supply control and enforcement legislation is needed to tackle the smuggling and to effectively punish cigarette traders and rebel groups, the article says. Cooperation at national, regional and global levels is also required.

“The best option for effective international action is the WHO FCTC and its illicit trade protocol, currently being negotiated,” it concludes.