Tobacco remains a massive threat to global health. Of the 1.1 billion smokers, around half will die as a result of their habit. With much of the world now well aware of smoking’s health risks, Big Tobacco has turned to some sinister methods to keep loyal customers puffing away.
Two new studies from the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, UK have revealed that the multinational tobacco industry is not only involved in a “monumental scam” by being complicit in the smuggling of its own products, it's also attempting to control the watchdog set up to prevent this.
"This has to be one of the tobacco industry’s greatest scams," said Professor Anna Gilmore, senior author on both papers published in this month’s edition of the BMJ journal Tobacco Control (here and here), in a statement.
Leaked documents show how the tobacco industry has gone to great lengths to subvert the Illicit Trade Protocol, an international agreement designed to stop the smuggling of tobacco. In clear terms, this is because the tobacco companies benefit from illegally smuggled tobacco, the researchers say. Regardless of where it is eventually sold, tobacco producers make some serious money by selling to wholesalers. This tobacco also remains untaxed, meaning it is cheaper and easier for poorer consumers to buy cigarettes and get hooked.
“Cheap smuggled tobacco is also particularly attractive to those short of cash – children and the least well off – key tobacco industry targets,” the researchers explain in an accompanying BMJ blog post.
The researchers claim that, at best, the industry is taking a lax attitude towards smuggling. At worst, they are fanning the flames.