Everybody knows smoking causes serious disease and is addictive. Policymakers worldwide aim to reduce the health impacts of smoking. However, there lurks a lesser-known harm associated with cigarettes.
Illegal trade in cigarettes is a serious and growing threat to society, causing widespread damage spanning the robbing of the public purse to the funding of violent, organized crime. Through smuggling, counterfeiting, and tax evasion, governments are being deprived of tax revenues, legitimate businesses undermined, and consumers fooled.
According to estimates, one out of ten cigarettes smoked globally stems from the illicit trade. It is a major economic problem for governments, which are losing a potential $40-50 billion in tax revenue each year. At Philip Morris International (PMI), we devote significant resources to help tackle this problem. It is within our best interests, and those of our shareholders and customers, to safeguard the legitimate supply and purchase of our goods. Yes, the problem of illegal trade impacts our business, but the effects stretch far beyond our bottom line. It damages society.
Fortunately, policymakers are becoming more aware of this phenomenon and are taking steps to combat it. Society is also beginning to realize that illicit tobacco trade is not a victimless crime, and that its role in funding criminal activity must be taken seriously.
Illicit tobacco trade is a global problem requiring a global solution. The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (Protocol) can be an important part of that global solution.
I often read about PMI being at odds with the WHO, but we are very much aligned in the goal to eliminate illicit cigarette trade and its associated harm. We share a firm commitment to tackle the problem in every corner of the world, and we welcome the Protocol’s entry into force.
The Protocol calls for compliance measures across the globe that tobacco manufacturers, importers and exporters of tobacco products, and those operating in free trade zones will have to honor. The strength of the Protocol depends on open participation in the public debate about its terms and implementation, including the participation of tobacco companies, and we support transparency and the rule of law principles in consultations between governments, citizens and the private sector.
To date, 47 countries and the EU have ratified the Protocol. We encourage more countries to ratify this important treaty; only then it will have a chance of reaching its full potential, equipping governments around the world with a robust tool in the battle against illicit tobacco trade.
PMI remains committed to working with authorities and governments to grow awareness of the problem and achieve the strongest possible response - together.
Read PMI’s position paper, expressing support for the WHO FCTC Protocol.
Written by Alvise Giustiniani