Objective: In France, cigarette sales have fallen sharply, especially in border areas, since the price increases of 2003 and 2004. It was proposed that these falls were not due to people quitting smoking but rather to increased cross-border sales of tobacco and/or smuggling. This paper aims to test this proposition.
Methods: Three approaches have been used. First, cigarette sales data from French sources for the period 1999–2006 were collected, and a simulation of the changes seen within these sales was carried out in order to estimate what the sales situation would have looked like without the presence of foreign tobacco. Second, the statements regarding tobacco consumed reported by the French population with registered tobacco sales were compared. Finally, in order to identify the countries of origin of foreign tobacco entering France, we collected a random sample of cigarette packs from a waste collection centre.
Results: According to the first method, cross-border shopping and smuggling of tobacco accounted for 8635 tonnes of tobacco in 2004, 9934 in 2005, and 9930 in 2006, ie, between 14% and 17% of total sales. The second method gave larger results: the difference between registered cigarette sales and cigarettes declared as being smoked was around 12 000 to 13 000 tonnes in 2005, equivalent to 20% of legal sales. The collection of cigarette packs at a waste collection centre showed that foreign cigarettes accounted for 18.6% of our sample in 2005 and 15.5% in 2006. France seems mainly to be a victim of cross-border purchasing of tobacco products, with the contraband market for tobacco remaining modest.
Conclusion: in order to avoid cross-border purchases, an increased harmonisation of national policies on the taxation of tobacco products needs to be envisaged by the European Union.
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Competing interests: None declared.