Illicit trade in tobacco products

18 Nov 2011

altRomanian Border Police conduct an anti-smuggling operation in 2008. (c) RBP

Illicit trade in tobacco products (smuggling, illicit manufacturing and counterfeiting) is a huge global problem that affects public health, and threatens law and order.

Illicit trade in cigarettes costs governments $40.5 billion in lost revenue yearly, with losses falling disproportionately on low and middle-income countries. It also undermines attempts to reduce tobacco consumption by raising prices – which is proven to be the most effective measure to curb tobacco use – and fuels organised crime and terrorism.

The tobacco industry continually raises the spectre of tobacco smuggling. However, smuggling benefits the tobacco industry by:

  • Increasing tobacco consumption (due to cheaper products);
  • Influencing governments against effective tobacco tax policies that reduce consumption. (Price increases are the single most effective way to reduce tobacco consumption);
  • Stimulating demand for particular brands, particularly in markets that have previously been closed to imports.

Eliminating this trade requires global effort to ensure its supply and distribution chain is controlled and effective enforcement strategies are implemented. A monumental step was taken on 12 November 2012, when the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) adopted the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (known as the ITP).

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