Progress in combating cigarette smuggling: controlling the supply chain (CORE1203)

Summary: The paper presents cases how government agencies have reduced illicit tobacco trade by making the industry liable for controlling their supply chains. Tobacco companies were required to monitor the movement of lawfully manufactured tobacco products in their supply chains, and even retrospectively track the route taken when products were seized due to suspected excise fraud. According the paper illicit trade was substantially reduced, if manufacturers stopped delivering lawfully manufactured tobacco products in amounts that exceeded the tobacco market in the countries with lower excise duties. The criminal market dried out due to unavailability of illicit tobacco products that had been smuggled to the countries of higher excise duties by organized criminal groups. The document can be viewed at:

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Full review: The paper focuses on excise fraud and organized smuggling of originally legally produced tobacco products to the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy. Based on internal company documents and court judgments the authors summarize evidence how the tobacco industry was involved directly and indirectly in the large-scale excise fraud. First, the companies delivered intentionally large quantities of tobacco products to the countries of low excise tax rates and uncontrolled distribution network. Then organized criminal groups shipped the purchased tobacco products illegally through their smuggling networks into the countries of higher excise duties.

The cutting off the tobacco supply to the illicit market is the key to intervene in large-scale organized tobacco smuggling. According the article by means of legislative and punitive interventions tobacco industry was forced to implement new export polices and practices. Tobacco companies invested in tracking and tracing systems that helped to identify points where shipped tobacco products diverted from the legal supply chain to the illicit markets. The companies implemented security processes in order to clearly identify they business partners and ensure business partners had no criminal records. Government agencies increased information sharing and inter-agency cooperation on a national and international level.  The interventions led to a substantial fall in customs seizures and a rise in legal sales.

CORE project can learn two things in the article. First, the global scope and multifaceted nature of the illicit tobacco trade requires visibility over shipment processes and efficient collaboration between governmental agencies and private sector. Second, the study implies risk to investigations and punitive damages made tobacco companies to pay attention in which markets their products finally end up. In other words, enforceable measures not voluntary agreements made industry liable for controlling their end-to-end supply chain and reduce societal risk.

Reference: Lara Joossens, L., & Raw, M. (2008). Progress in combating cigarette smuggling: controlling the supply chain. Tobacco Control, 17(6), 399–404.