Research indicates tobacco industry behind most cigarette smuggling

your say June 16, 2018 01:00

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Tobacco companies are facilitating tobacco smuggling while simultaneously attempting to manipulate a global system designed to prevent illicit trade, according to a new study by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath.

The research highlights the continuing complicity of tobacco companies in smuggling and the elaborate schemes of the industry to control a global track-and-trace system and undermine a major international treaty – the Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP). The ITP was adopted in 2012 by the World Health Organisation to tackle tobacco smuggling and make transnational tobacco companies accountable for their involvement. Under it, tobacco packs are marked, tracked and, if found on the illicit market, traced back to their origin. Leaked industry documents show how the four major international tobacco firms implemented a joint plan to use front groups and third parties to promote their own, industry-created track-and-trace system, called Codentify, as if it was independent of the industry. Study authors recommend that governments should not trust Codentify.

In the Asean region, from the 2012-2015 period this study refers to, Philip Morris International funded two US- and UK-based think tanks – International Tax and Investment Centre and Oxford Economics – to conduct illicit trade studies that have since been discredited for using flawed methodology and unreliable data and resulting in biased conclusions and inflated smuggling figures. These studies were used to systematically oppose tobacco tax increases in Asean countries and recommended that governments work with tobacco companies to tackle smuggling.

“The tobacco industry often claims to be the victim of smuggled and counterfeit tobacco, despite the growing evidence from government investigations, whistleblowers, and leaked tobacco industry documents that all suggest ongoing industry involvement. This new study reveals that about 70 per cent of smuggled cigarettes are derived from the industry; by contrast counterfeit cigarettes make up only about 5 to 8 per cent of the illegal cigarette market.  Any claims by tobacco companies about smuggling are dubious, and tobacco companies should be investigated and held to account for smuggling,” said Dr Ulysses Dorotheo of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.

The paper published yesterday in the Tobacco Control journal calls on governments and international bodies to crack down on tactics of Big Tobacco and instead ensure that systems to control tobacco smuggling are free of industry influence.

Wendell C Balderas

Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance