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The trade in illicit tobacco, which includes counterfeiting, bootlegging (small-scale smuggling) and large-scale organised smuggling by criminal gangs, has flourished in the UK and worldwide in the last decade.1 The presence of supply routes and distribution networks, geographic location, stringency of tobacco control, resource and efforts of customs officers and border patrols, trading standards and police, level of punitive measures for smuggling and international cooperation all collectively influence the level of illicit trade,2 3 while taxation appears to play a minor role.1
Despite continuing efforts to combat illicit tobacco, the UK remains a key retail market within the European Union for contraband cigarettes.4 HM Revenue and Customs reported a decline in illicit cigarette market share in the UK from between 13% to 19% in 2002/3 to between 9% to 17% in 2006–2007, although this exceeds the average for high-income countries, with illicit market share of hand-rolled tobacco (HRT) remaining stable during this period at between 48% to 62%.5
From a public health perspective, the presence of illicit tobacco undermines tobacco control by ensuring that cheap cigarettes and HRT, between 40% to 60% the retail price, are available and …
Funding Cancer Research UK.
Competing interests RW undertakes research and consultancy for companies that manufacture smoking cessation medications and has a share of a patent for a novel nicotine delivery device.
Patient consent Obtained.
Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Ethics Committee at the University of Stirling.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.