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Crossing geographical, legal and moral boundaries: the Belgian cigarette black market


Objectives: To describe and analyse the cigarette smuggling trade in Belgium and its role in the international cigarette black market.

Design: Analysis of Belgian customs and prosecution files concerning the cigarette smuggling trade in the period 2000 to 2006 and interviews with law enforcement authorities and private tobacco industry.

Results: Analyses were made of the geographical aspects, the modus operandi and the participants of the cigarette smuggling trade in Belgium. Belgium is mainly a transit country. The cigarettes are transported via the fine-meshed Belgian highway network to the UK, which is often the destination country of the cigarettes. China is the most popular country of origin, especially for counterfeited cigarettes. In order to transport the cigarettes often use was made of legal transport companies and warehouses were frequently used to store the cigarettes. Many of the persons involved in the Belgian cigarette smuggling trade are strongly connected to legitimate business activities.

Conclusions: Belgium is an important transit country for cigarette smuggling to the UK. This study pictures the illicit tobacco trade as a complex, ambiguous phenomenon involving several legal and illegal participants whereby the transit of cigarettes across the licit/illicit divide is paralleled by the moral careers of those who smuggle them, not to mention those who consume them. From the legal world to the illegal and back again, this trade and its practitioners and customers blur the line between criminality and non-criminality. Dealing with this phenomenon therefore requires more than a strategy focusing on these lawbreakers alone.

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