Trends in the Global Tobacco Market

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 5.6 trillion[7] cigarettes were consumed worldwide in 2002, and this figure is expected to grow to 6.3 trillion in 2010.[8] This represents relatively slow growth, notes ACS medical anthropologist and epidemiologist Dr. Omar Shafey, and the increase is fueled primarily by the growth of the world's population, not an increase in the popularity of smoking.[9] In per-capita terms, worldwide consumption of cigarettes has declined since 1986 at an average rate of about 1.2 percent annually.[10]

Concern over the popularity of tobacco products[*] and their attendant health consequences has made them a popular target for taxation around the world. Of the 152 countries from which information is available, taxes as a percentage of product price range from 80 percent down to almost 0 percent.[11]

The tax-related price differentials between tobacco products in different nations induces cross-border bootlegging and casual smuggling in much the same way it does between American states, although some scholars report that smuggling rates can also be influenced by the degree of corruption tolerated in and among nations.[12] In a widely cited paper, economists David Merriman, Ayda Yurekli and Frank J. Chaloupka estimate that 6 percent to 8.5 percent of all cigarette consumption worldwide is a result of smuggling,[13] although the figure is pegged at 10.7 percent by the Framework Convention Alliance, an international collection of groups that developed a tobacco control treaty for the World Health Organization.[14] Merriman, Yurekli and Chaloupka also estimate that in 1995, consumption of smuggled cigarettes in some nations — Cambodia, Bangladesh and Latvia, for instance — exceeded 30 percent.[15]

On Oct. 20, 2008, the Center for Public Integrity released an installment in a series entitled "Tobacco Underground: The Booming Underground Trade in Smuggled Tobacco." The installment, "Made to be Smuggled," finds that $1 billion in "Jin Ling" contraband cigarettes are flooding Europe and that the Jin Ling brand is the first brand of cigarettes designed and produced expressly for smuggling. The brand already rivals Marlboro as a favorite among contraband traffickers and their customers, according to the article.[16]

High smuggling rates are not limited to developing countries or nations with high levels of reported corruption. One 1995 study by L. Joossens and M. Raw, published in the British Medical Journal, reported that up to 85 percent of the cigarettes purchased in Luxembourg were not consumed there, suggesting massive cross-border shopping and illegal smuggling.[17] And according to Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs annual report for 2005-2006, an estimated 10 percent to 19 percent of all cigarettes consumed in the United Kingdom in fiscal 2005 were bought on the illegal market. The percentage was about 21 percent in 2000.[18]

So widespread is illicit trafficking in tobacco in the United Kingdom that even a famous soccer figure was arrested for cigarette smuggling on Sept. 2 of this year. Kostadin Hadzhiivanov, a Bulgarian who was president of the football club Belasitsa, was arrested in Greece for cigarette smuggling activities in the United Kingdom.[†], [19]

Authorities in England have noticed an uptick in the degree of smuggled rolling tobacco. It appears that a significant percentage of the population has begun substituting smuggled for legal hand-rolled cigarette tobacco, even though legal hand-rolled cigarette tobacco is typically cheaper than legal cigarettes. In a spring 2007 report, HM Revenue & Customs Department officials note that smuggled hand-rolled tobacco accounts for more than 50 percent of all hand-rolled tobacco smoked in the United Kingdom.[‡],[20]

As we discuss below, most smuggling in the United States occurs across state borders, with smugglers attempting to profit from differences in the cigarette taxes levied by each state. Some of the illicit market, however, involves cigarettes intended for export to other countries. These can be a goldmine for a smuggler because they are not subject to federal, state or local excise taxes. Over the years, schemes to divert cigarettes intended for export to illicit domestic consumption have been uncovered in Washington, California, Texas, New York and New Jersey.[21]

[7] Dr. Judith Mackay, Dr. Michael Eriksen and Dr. Omar Shafey, The Tobacco Atlas, Second Edition, (Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2006), 32.

[8] Dr. Omar Shafey (medical anthropologist and epidemiologist, American Cancer Society), telephone interview with Michael LaFaive, September 10, 2008.

[9] Shafey, interview.

[10] Emmanuel G. Guindon and David Boisclair, Past, Current and Future Trends in Tobacco Use, Health, Nutrition and Population Discussion Paper, Economics of Tobacco Control Paper No. 6, (The World Bank, 2003), 9.

[11] World Health Organization, WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2008: The MPOWER Package, (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2008), 54, mpower_report_full_2008.pdf (accessed Sept. 25, 2008).

[12] Luke Joossens, Frank J. Chaloupka, David Merriman, and Ayda Yurekli, Tobacco Control in Developing Countries, ed., Prabhat Jha and Frank Chaloupka, (Geneva: Oxford Medical Publications, 2000), 393.

[13] David Merriman, Ayda Yurekli and Frank J. Chaloupka, "How big is the worldwide cigarette smuggling problem?" Tobacco Control in Developing Countries, ed., Prabhat Jha and Frank Chaloupka, (Geneva: Oxford Medical Publications, 2000), 365.

[14] Framework Convention Alliance, "The Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products: How International Cooperation Can Save Lives and Billions of Dollars," Factsheet, (Geneva: Framework Convention Alliance, February 2008), fca-2008-inb-illicit-trade- inb1-factsheet-how-cooperation-can-save-lives-en.pdf (accessed September 20, 2008).

[15] "How big is the worldwide cigarette smuggling problem?" 373.

[16] Stefan Candea, Duncan Campbell, Vlad Lavrov, Roman Shleynov, "Made to be Smuggled: Russian Contraband Cigarettes ‘Flooding' EU," (Center for Public Integrity, International Consortium of Investigative Journlists), Oct. 19, 2008. tobacco/articles/entry/763 (accessed October 22, 2008).

[17] L. Joossens and M. Raw, Smuggling and Cross-border trade of tobacco in Europe," British Medical Journal 3, (1995): 1393-7 (

[18] HMRC Annual Report 2005-06 and Autumn Performance Report, 2006, 30, channelsPortalWebApp.portal?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pageLibrary_ ShowContent&id=HMCE_PROD1_026500&propertyType=document (accessed September 16, 2008), 30.

[19] Sophia News Agency, "Bulgarian FC President Arrested in Greece over Cigarette Smuggling in UK," Sophia News Agency, Bulgaria, (accessed September 16, 2008.)

[20] HMRC Departmental Report: Integrating and Growing Stronger, Spring 2007, 39, channelsPortalWebApp.portal?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel= pageAboutUs_ShowContent&propertyType=document& resetCT=true&id=HMCE_PROD1_027505 (accessed September 16, 2008), 39.

[21] Lindquist Avey, Macdonald Baskerville, Forensic Financial Investigations, Cigarette Smuggling in the State of Michigan, August 15, 1994.

[*] Cigarettes accounted for more than 96 percent of the total value of tobacco products sold worldwide. See The Tobacco Atlas, Second Edition, 32.

[†] Along with the usual interdiction by law enforcement, the United Kingdom has also been attempting simple persuasion. A commercial that has run in the U.K. to discourage illicit commerce in tobacco can be viewed at

[‡] The same report also mentions a concern about the percentage of counterfeit cigarettes that are smuggled into the United Kingdom, saying, "The proportion of illicit cigarettes seized that are proven to be counterfeit has increased to 51% (over 1 billion cigarettes) in 2005-06 ..." HMRC Departmental Report: Integrating and Growing Stronger, Spring 2007. channelsPortalWebApp.portal?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pageAboutUs_ ShowContent& propertyType=document&resetCT=true&id= HMCE_PROD1_027505 (accessed September 16. 2008), 39. Counterfeit cigarettes are packaged to look like mainstream name brands, but they typically cut costs by using fillers, such as sawdust, to supplement the tobacco.