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EU Tobacco Products Directive: Plain packaging and cigarette smuggling

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The start of the new EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) is just hours away, and one of the interesting aspects of the resulting aftermath will be a new, more generic packaging of all tobacco cigarettes. There will be no more creative branding logos, and all packages must be child-proof while including a boldly emblazoned health warning on the label. But this plain packaging requirement is drawing controversy in nearly all of the 28 countries of the European Union, and not for the reasons that you might think.

Even though the TPD goes into effect on May 20, cigarette manufacturers have 6-months to comply. But many political insiders are not so sure that the plain packaging requirements are such a good idea. Many are wondering if the TPD will cause a surge in criminal cigarette smuggling.

What is cigarette smuggling?

Believe it or not, cigarette smuggling is a thing. It really does exist, especially in the European nations of Ireland, Poland, and Romania. In fact, our friendly Canadian neighbor to the north recently witnessed the biggest cigarette smuggling bust in their history. In March 2016, over 120,000 pounds of cigarette contraband were seized by Canadian authorities in Quebec. Some 60 people were arrested in over 70 government raids performed by over 700 officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

According to the Toronto Sun, over 400 billion cigarettes per year are sold illegally around the world, and the large majority of these take place in European nations. With the new, plain packaging requirements of the EU Tobacco Products Directive, many industry insiders are already witnessing an increase in inquiries about Black Market tobacco products. It seems that Europeans love their smokes, and they want to make doubly sure that they get their preferred brand.

Australia sees boost in cigarette smuggling.

In 2014, Australia implemented similar regulations to the EU Tobacco Products Directive. Within two years after the requirement for plain packaging, the Australian government was so overrun by cigarette smuggling that they had to create a special tactic force just to manage the problem. In Ireland, the well-known IRA is already ranked as one of the world’s leading and most dedicated tobacco smugglers. Even before the announcement of the TPD regulations, illegal cigarettes constituted over 30% of all cigarette sales in Ireland.

Not surprisingly, the IRA also seems to find the new plain packaging requirements very interesting. According to the Toronto Sun article, government informants say that the IRA is already researching how they can turn plain packaging into a financial windfall. The EU needs to understand that plain packaging does not make cigarette smuggling more difficult. It makes it easier. Once the EU Tobacco Products Directive goes into effect, criminals around the world might be rubbing their greedy, little hands together with glee.

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