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Tobacco illicit trade in Europe, Israel and Middle East: challenges and threats

In 2016, one in every 12 cigarettes lit up in the world was illicit valued collectively at around 40 billion dollars, with an equivalent tax loss to global governments

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, February 27, 2018

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In the annual study “Project SUN”, where it is estimated the scale and development of the illicit cigarette market in the EU, Norway and Switzerland, it is shown that overall, counterfeit and contraband (C&C) posing significant threats, although declined by 8.8%, to 48.3 billion cigarettes in 2016. Nevertheless, it is still accounted for over 9% of total consumption.
In the annual study “Project SUN”, where it is estimated the scale and development of the illicit cigarette market in the EU, Norway and Switzerland, it is shown that overall, counterfeit and contraband (C&C) posing significant threats, although declined by 8.8%, to 48.3 billion cigarettes in 2016. Nevertheless, it is still accounted for over 9% of total consumption.

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It is an undeniable fact that illicit trade is a phenomenon that impacts tobacco manufacturers, governments and the tobacco control community, requiring a coordinated international response.

In the annual study “Project SUN”, where it is estimated the scale and development of the illicit cigarette market in the EU, Norway and Switzerland, it is shown that overall, counterfeit and contraband (C&C) posing significant threats, although declined by 8.8%, to 48.3 billion cigarettes in 2016. Nevertheless, it is still accounted for over 9% of total consumption.

Particularly, counterfeit and contraband products represent a tax loss of up to 10.2 billion euros, making the illicit trade one of the largest major “player” in the cigarette market. According to the report, the highest volume of C&C was identified in France, while only Romania and Austria experienced a gradual increase in 2016. 

Ιt is estimated that organized crime groups engaged in the illicit cigarette trade are increasingly diverse in the routes and methods they employ and in the products they manufacture, transport and sell.

Apart from the European countries, the Middle East and Africa region shows a large growth in volume of illicit cigarettes.

Euromonitor International attributes this growth to the political situation and current developments in the region. An example is Israel where it is estimated that tobacco illicit trade today is reaching around 20% and it has doubled over the last few years with alarming signs of increase due to the already high excise of cheap products and roll-your-own category, which acts as a barrier before illicit trade.

The current trend shows that more than 50% of illicit cigarettes are originated from West Bank, while other sources include ex-Soviet Union countries, such as Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Georgia. The direct repercussion is the significant loss of state revenues.

As far as the Middle East region is concerned, Syrian and Lebanon are the main countries that get involved with the tobacco illicit trade. The targets are Central America and Europe. There are three major routes of smuggling in Middle East:

  1.  From Cyprus to Lebanon and from Turkey to Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.
  2.  From Egypt to North Africa and from there to Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, to South Asia.
  3.  From Dubai to the United Arab Emirates and from there to India, Pakistan and from there to Sudan and Somalia.

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