News Release

British American Tobacco calls for greater understanding of the illegal tobacco trade for World No Tobacco Day 2015

28 May 2015

Today, British American Tobacco is reiterating the need for greater understanding of the illegal tobacco trade, the criminals behind it and the need for greater cooperation and collaboration to fight it. This call to action launches as part of a new campaign, developed by British American Tobacco, to raise awareness of the facts around the illegal tobacco trade to coincide with the WHO’s World No Tobacco Day on Sunday 31 May [1].

The nature and scale of the illegal tobacco trade and, the approaches required to tackle it, vary from country to country. However, if all of the different organisations involved in the illegal tobacco trade around the world were combined into one conglomerate, they would become the third largest international tobacco company by volume.

The campaign portrays this fictional tobacco conglomerate - International Tobacco Smugglers Inc. (ITSI) - profiling the criminal supply chain and how these people are working together on an international scale in sophisticated, highly organised, criminal networks to manufacture, transport and distribute tobacco products illegally. These people include the person selling cigarettes for pocket money prices in local neighbourhoods and the transport specialist who ships illegal tobacco products from country to country, through to the wealthy ‘king pin’ who is in overall control. 

Jerome Abelman, Director of Legal & External Affairs, comments: “The impact of illegal tobacco may not be felt as immediately and directly as other crimes, but the consequences are very real. By some estimates, illegal tobacco costs governments around the world $40-$50 billion each year in unpaid tobacco taxes - the equivalent to approximately one $110million bank robbery every day of the year - and sales of illegal tobacco are reported to fund human trafficking, drug and arms trades as well as terrorist organisations.

“The amount of illegal tobacco is much more significant than is generally realised: an estimated 400-600 billion cigarettes, the equivalent of approximately 10-12% of world consumption. It is a transnational, multi-faceted issue and one that requires a collaborative approach to tackle it, from governments and law enforcement agencies with whom we work in partnership to retailers and customers who can arm themselves with the facts.”

The nature of the illegal tobacco trade varies from country to country but the causes are similar. These include large excise increases causing price differences between countries and ineffective law enforcement measures.

Jerome Abelman continues:  “We are an important part of the solution and we invest over $75 million each year to fight the illegal tobacco trade. British American Tobacco has dedicated Anti-Illicit Trade teams across the globe that work with government agencies, including police and customs officials, with the aim of bringing criminals who are involved in the illegal tobacco trade to justice.   We also support the FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, but this treaty will only be effective if it is consistently applied and enforced by joined up governments.”

[1] Each year, WHO’s World No Tobacco Day has a themed focus. The focus for 2015 is the illegal tobacco trade.


Notes to editors

Illegal tobacco comprises three categories of illegal activity:

  • Counterfeit cigarettes:  They are likely to contain many times the levels of tar and carbon monoxide found in genuine cigarettes, and in some cases can contain insects and human faeces. The vast majority of fakes come from illegal operators in China, Paraguay, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.
  • Smuggled genuine product
  • Illicit whites: Cigarettes that are generally legally produced in a market primarily to be smuggled into another market where they have limited or no legal distribution. The growth of illicit whites pose the most significant threat.


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