Tax policy is considered the most effective strategy to reduce tobacco consumption and prevalence. Tax avoidance and tax evasion therefore undermine the effectiveness of tax policies and result in less revenue for
governments, cheaper prices for smokers and increased tobacco use. Tobacco smuggling and illicit tobacco trade have probably always existed, since tobacco’s introduction as a valuable product from the New World,
but the nature of the trade has changed.
This article clarifies definitions, reviews the key issues related to illicit trade, describes the different ways taxes are circumvented and looks at the size of the problem, its changing nature and its causes. The difficulties of data collection and research are discussed. Finally, we look at the policy options to combat illicit trade and the negotiations for a WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) protocol on illicit tobacco trade.
Twenty years ago the main type of illicit trade was large-scale cigarette smuggling of well known cigarette brands. A change occurred as some major international tobacco companies in Europe and the Americas reviewed their export practices due to tax regulations, investigations and lawsuits by the authorities. Other types of illicit trade emerged such as illegal manufacturing, including counterfeiting and the emergence of new cigarette brands, produced in a rather open manner at well known locations, which are only or mainly intended for the illegal market of another country.
The global scope and multifaceted nature of the illicit tobacco trade requires a coordinated international response, so a strong protocol to the FCTC is essential. The illicit tobacco trade is a global problem which needs a global solution.