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  1. Adeola Akinremi
  1. Correspondence to Dr Adeola Akinremi, Nigeria; adeolaakinremi{at}yahoo.com

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Until recently, no one thought cigarette smuggling was too serious, so law enforcement has not spent resources to go after it (see page 230).

However, huge tobacco black markets have arisen from several countries of Africa as smugglers move cheap and counterfeit cigarettes to sell in lucrative regions of the world where regulations are inadequate and enforcement lax. The illicit trade is fuelling addiction by making inexpensive cigarettes widely available, while robbing governments of sorely needed tax revenue. Those engaged in illicit tobacco trade in Africa have perfected the act, using such strategies as signing deceptive manufacturing memoranda of understanding with governments and seeking importations ahead of manufacturing start dates whereas the sole aim is to engage in smuggling. They avoid seaports by using illegal routes through mostly land-locked countries for tax evasion.

The African region is caught up in illicit commercial flows in tobacco trade facilitated by locally based individuals who own or have stakes in numerous businesses close to the corridors of power, on one hand, and the transnational corporations on the other. In each case, at least one component of the supply chain lies outside Africa. The problems are transnational challenges, and this means there are at least two broad ways of coming up with solutions in the form of policy options.

The first is to address those aspects of the problem that lie outside the region. In many cases, this is the easier path, since law enforcement capacity in Africa is among the poorest in the world. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control's strong illicit trade protocol, when ready, could help achieve this.

The second is curbing the demand for tobacco use by removing the profitability of intraregional cigarette smuggling, which can be achieved by harmonised tax policy and licensing regimes, and curtailing the processing of illicit goods in free trade zones.

In both approaches—transnational and local—the involvement of the international community is essential for sustainable success. Unilateral remedial action by any African state on its own will surely be undermined by less progressive practices by its neighbours, particularly given the weakness of borders in the region, especially in West Africa.

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  • Linked article 050205.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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