Why combating tobacco smuggling is a priorityBMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a1933 (Published 09 October 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1933
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Robert West and his colleagues are rightly concerned about the
contribution made by smuggled tobacco products to the ill health of the
nation. Unfortunately, Government policies tend to promote this illicit
trade. For many years the Government has progressively increased the tax
on cigarettes and other forms of tobacco with the aims of prompting
smokers to give up the habit, or else to drastically reduce their intake
of cigarettes. These aims are worthy but it is uncertain how often or how
permanently they are achieved. When the tax on cigarettes increases,there
is a decrease in cigarette sales, but the effect is probably transient as
smokers adapt to the higher prices.
High taxes provide large amounts of revenue which might for example
be used to increase funding for the NHS. There is an unfortunate conflict
of interest, because successful reduction in tobacco consumption entails a
significant decline in revenue which the Treasury does not appreciate.
High taxes on tobacco encourage smuggling because they boost the
sales of smuggled cigarettes and make smuggling a profitable business,
while lower taxes could make smuggling not worth the effort. Canada is
very vulnerable to cigarette smuggling because it has a very long and
relatively porous border with the United States,where taxes on cigarettes
are significantly lower. Tobacco smuggling into Canada became so rife that
the Canadian tax was reduced to discourage the illicit trade.
The WHO proposals to require the tobacco companies to pay the taxes
on smuggled cigarettes, thus enlisting the suppliers to police their own
product, might be the best long-term solution to the smuggling problem,
although the bureaucratic machinery involved will be awesome.
Competing interests: No competing interests