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Tobacco smuggling breaches the strict rules introduced by the EU and its member governments on the manufacturing, distribution and sales of tobacco products. It has many harmful effects, in particular:
- draining public budgets
- posing serious risks to consumers and businesses
- undermining public health campaigns.
OLAF’s mandate is to crack down on the illicit trade in tobacco on behalf of the EU. It does this in two ways:
- investigative work
- helping the EU institutions and national administrations shape policies to combat smuggling through targeted research and analysis.
Main strands of EU action
1. EU-wide strategy
The EU adopted a comprehensive strategy against cigarette smuggling.
This was accompanied by an action plan, implemented in close cooperation with national administrations.
The Commission published a progress report on EU measures against cigarette smuggling.
The report noted that despite significant progress, the problem was still as acute as ever. But thanks to strong legislative responses, robust law enforcement and greater cooperation (national, European and international), the 2013 strategy was still relevant.
The Commission presented a new action plan, with concrete steps to address both the supply and demand for illegal tobacco products.
The plan continues to focus on:
- internationally – the Protocol to the WHO Convention on Tobacco Control (‘FCTC Protocol’)
- in the EU – implementing the new traceability system for tobacco products
These 2 items should remain the cornerstone of long-term EU policy action in this area. Like its predecessor, this plan combines policy and law enforcement measures – such a dual-track approach being the best option for sustainable success.
To reduce demand, the action plan focuses on making consumers more aware of:
- the dangers of buying illegal tobacco products
- the direct links to organised crime.
To help national administrations improve their awareness-raising campaigns, the EU launched a survey on perceptions of illegal tobacco products in 2019.
The FCTC Protocol is the main international anti-smuggling treaty. The EU ratified it in 2016 and it entered into force in 2018.
The Protocol tackles the illicit trade in tobacco by introducing a package of joint measures to be taken by Parties.
OLAF participated in the first meeting of Protocol Parties in October 2018. There the Parties decided to focus on securing the supply chain for tobacco products and on international cooperation.
- EU calls on international partners to sign anti-smuggling UN treaty (press release)
- Decision 2016/1749 on the FCTC Protocol
- Decision 2016/1750 on the FCTC Protocol (incl. judicial cooperation on criminal matters and the definition of criminal offences)
- Tobacco products directive – introduces a new EU-wide system to track and trace tobacco products destined for, or placed on, the EU market.
In 2017, the Commission adopted legislation laying down the technical specifications for the traceability systems & security features for tobacco products.
3. Agreements with tobacco manufacturers
To address the problem of contraband and counterfeit cigarettes, the EU, all its countries (except Sweden, for the agreements with British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco Limited) and the UK have signed legally binding and enforceable agreements with the world’s largest tobacco manufacturers.
The manufacturers agreed to:
- pay $2.15 billion to the EU and countries participating in the agreement
- prevent their products falling into the hands of criminals by:
- supplying only enough to cover legitimate demand
- ensuring they sell to legitimate customers only
- implementing a tracking system to help law enforcement agencies fight the illicit trade in tobacco.