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The illicit cigarette trade is defined as “the production, import, export, purchase, sale, or possession of tobacco goods which fail to comply with legislation” .The illicit tobacco market may account for as much as one in every 10 cigarettes consumed globally, according to studies.

Cigarette smuggling, also informally referred to as “buttlegging,” is the illicit transportation of cigarettes or cigars from an administrative division with low taxation to a division with high taxation for sale and consumption. The practice, commonly used by organized crime syndicates and rebel groups, is a form of tax evasion.

The issues linked to the illicit trade of tobacco products were seen as so serious that the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) decided that a protocol — a new international treaty — was needed to specifically address the illicit tobacco trade. One of the predictable — even inevitable — results of such a restriction will be the emergence of a black market.

There a correlation between tobacco tax policy and illicit trade. A strong correlation between affordability and the size of illicit trade as a proportion of total consumption. By analogy, an analysis conducted on alcoholic beverages, arguably the closest product category to tobacco, also shows a strong relationship between illicit alcohol consumption and alcohol affordability. Tobacco affordability itself is determined by a combination of retail pricing and disposable income.

Can harm reduction help tackle the issue of illicit tobacco trade? Absolutely! Vaping sales have skyrocketed over the past year, while smoking rates have dropped to their lowest numbers ever (except for Africa). With reduced demand for cigarettes, illicit tobacco trade will dwindle. If fairly regulated, tobacco-harm reduction can bring an end to smoking. Affordable vapor products & snus can be a win-win for both the public and Governments. A reduced demand for cigarettes can end the illicit trade.

Governments should allow and avail to smokers accurate information on life saving harm reduction products .

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