Fuelling the fires of the illicit trade in tobacco

The tobacco industry warns clampdowns will encourage the smugglers. Mark Leftly reports

On the border of Poland and Kaliningrad, a standalone portion of Russia that is cut off from its motherland on the Baltic coast, forces seize 40,000 packs of illegal cigarettes worth around £8,500.

Kaliningrad's border department chief Pyotr Gordiyenko boasts: "Thanks to precise interaction between Russian and Polish border guards, a large contraband transaction has been foiled, which members of the criminal group tried to effect across the Russian-Polish border."

The Russian exclave has long been identified as a prime location in the illicit cigarettes trade; that particular bust took place in late 2008. The customs agency of Kaliningrad's other neighbour, Lithuania, says that nearly one third of the illegal smokes it finds come over that border, with around 60 per cent due to go to EU states, the UK and Germany among them.

Last week, Alison Cooper, the chief executive at John Player Special and Rizla manufacturer Imperial Tobacco, said there were "increasing levels of illicit trade" in Europe, which was hurting the FTSE 100 group's sales.

Big tobacco is highlighting the issue, which it argues bankrolls criminal gangs, as governments look to crack down on the legal trade. This includes forcing legitimate manufacturers to sell fags in drab packaging rather than in strongly coloured, branded boxes.

The EU has proposed a Tobacco Products Directive that would follow Australia's implementation of standardised packaging, as well as make sure that the cartons are designed so that they are 75 per cent covered by health warnings. In the UK, only 30 per cent of the front of the pack is covered by a text warning, with 40 per cent of the back filled by a frightening picture, like a tarred lung.

The EU also wants to ban flavoured cigarettes, such as menthol and the sale of packs containing fewer than 20 to stop people buying a handful thinking that they won't still be dangerous.

Tobacco Manufacturers' Association chief Jaine Chisholm Caunt is, unsurprisingly, against these plans, saying that prohibiting the sale of smaller packs is counter-intuitive if the aim is to help smokers quit.

Pointing out the legitimate part of the industry employs 1.5 million across the continent, Ms Chisholm Caunt argues: "These proposals will deliver very little for public health, but would create a huge profit opportunity for criminals and racketeers.

"Those involved in considering the proposed directive over the coming months should reflect carefully on the many unintended consequences of these proposals."

At the heart of most defences of big tobacco is extra regulation and taxes impose costs that result in higher prices in the shops.

This drives even more people to the black market, where a packet of 20 might cost less than £3.50, under half a legally bought pack, and some research suggests this costs the government more than £3bn in lost revenue. In December, Lancashire wholesaler NH Foods of Accrington was ordered to pay more than £6,000 in costs and fines for possession and supply of illegal cigarettes.

From Russian outposts to former mill towns in the North of England, the best defence of such a criticised industry appears to be that governments would be better off not punishing the devils they know.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
science
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
tv
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)

£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...

Java Developer - Banking - London - Up to £560/day

£500 - £560 per day: Orgtel: Java Developer FX - Banking - London - Up to £560...

HR Business Analyst, Bristol, £350-400pd

£350 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Account Manager - (Product & Account Management, Marketing)

£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Account Manager - (Produc...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried