Approaches for Controlling Illicit Tobacco Trade—Nine Countries and the European Union

May 29, 2015 / Vol. 64 / No. 20



MMWR Introduction

An estimated 11.6% of the world cigarette market is illicit, representing over 650 billion cigarettes a year and 40.5 billion US dollars in lost revenue. The World Health Organization (WHO) Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, signed by 54 countries, provides tools for addressing illicit trade through a package of regulatory and governing principles. As of May 2015, only eight countries had ratified or acceded to the Illicit Trade Protocol, with an additional 32 needed for it to become international law. The status of the 10 most commonly identified approaches were evaluated in a sample of countries: licensing, product markers, national record keeping, track-and-trace systems, enforcement, export tax, tax harmonization, agreements with tobacco industry, promotion of public awareness, and coordination among agencies. The findings reveal that while the WHO illicit trade protocol defines shared global standards for addressing illicit trade, countries are guided by their own legal and enforcement frameworks, leading to a diversity of approaches employed across countries. Continued adoption of the methods outlined in the WHO illicit trade protocol might improve the global capacity to reduce illicit trade in tobacco products.

The status of the 10 anti-illicit-trade approaches was assessed in nine countries (Brazil, Canada, Hungary, Italy, Malaysia, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, and the European Union. These countries were selected based on data availability and participation in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). In the sample of countries in this report, the most commonly used approaches included licensing, markers, national record keeping, enforcement, and coordination among agencies. Although establishing track-and-trace systems has been identified as a central approach for limiting illicit trade, its implementation is not yet widespread. Other measures such as export taxes, tax harmonization, and public awareness program are not universally employed. While all examined countries were parties to the WHO FCTC, most have not yet ratified or acceded to the WHO FCTC illicit trade protocol, and only one has thus far acquired accession status. Research suggests that the revenue gains from eliminating illicit tobacco trade globally would exceed $31 billion US dollars, and would help prevent more than 160,000 tobacco-related deaths per year from 2030 onwards.


MMWR Highlights


Implementation of common approaches to address illicit tobacco trade in nine countries and the European Union

  • All of the nations evaluated implemented licensing and enforcement procedures.
  • All of the nations evaluated, except Malaysia, implemented national record keeping and agencies’ coordination procedures.
  • Of the nations evaluated, only Canada, Brazil, Hungary and Turkey implemented track-and-trace procedures.
  • All the nations evaluated, except Brazil and Malaysia, have agreements with industry.
  • Of the nations evaluated, only Canada and Brazil have an export tax.
  • Of all the nations evaluated, only the European Union, Canada, the United Kingdom and Malaysia implemented public awareness programs.


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