Illicit cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco in 18 European countries: a cross-sectional survey

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Abstract

Objective

Little evidence, other than that commissioned by the tobacco industry, exists on the size of the illicit tobacco trade. This study addresses this gap by examining the level and nature of illicit cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco in 18 European countries.

Design

Face-to-face cross-sectional survey on smoking.

Setting

18 European countries.

Participants

For each country, around 1000 subjects representative of the population aged 15 and over were enrolled. Current cigarette smokers were asked to show their latest purchased pack of cigarettes or hand-rolled tobacco.

Main outcome measure

A comprehensive measure called an Identification of an Illicit Pack (IIP) was used to study the extent of illicit trade, defining a pack as illicit if it had at least one of the following tax evasion indicators: (1) it was bought from illicit sources, as reported by smokers, (2) it had an inappropriate tax stamp, (3) it had an inappropriate health warning or (4) its price was substantially below the known price in their market.

Results

Overall, the proportion of illicit packs was 6.5%. The highest prevalence of IIP was observed in Latvia (37.8%). Illicit packs were more frequent among less educated smokers and among those living in a country which shared a land or sea border with Ukraine, Russia, Moldova or Belarus. No significant association was found with price of cigarettes.

Conclusions

This study indicates that IIP is less than 7% in Europe and suggests that the supply of illicit tobacco, rather than its price, is a key factor contributing to tax evasion.

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