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Illicit tobacco trade in Georgia: prevalence and perceptions
  1. Megan Little1,
  2. Hana Ross1,
  3. George Bakhturidze2,3,
  4. Iago Kachkachishvili4
  1. 1 Economics, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  2. 2 Tobacco Control Research, FCTC Implementation and Monitoring Center in Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia
  3. 3 Health Promotion Research, Georgian Health Promotion and Education Foundation, Tbilisi, Georgia
  4. 4 Sociology and Social Work Department, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Tbilisi, Georgia
  1. Correspondence to Megan Little, Economics, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, 7700, South Africa; firdaleconsulting{at}


Background In lower-income and middle-income countries, limited research exists on illicit tobacco trade and its responsiveness to taxation. Tobacco taxes are critical in reducing tobacco consumption, thereby improving public health. However, the tobacco industry claims that tax increases will increase illicit tobacco trade. Therefore, research evidence on the size of the illicit cigarette market is needed in Georgia and other low-income and middle-income countries to inform tobacco tax policies.

Methods In 2017, a household survey using stratified multistage sampling was conducted in Georgia with 2997 smokers, to assess illicit tobacco consumption. Smokers were asked to show available cigarette packs to the surveyors. These were examined for tax stamps and health warnings which allowed for an assessment of illegal cigarette consumption in Georgia.

Findings The packs shown to surveyors suggest illicit cigarette trade is low (1.5%), although with regional differences, as illicit cigarette packs were present in 6% of the households in Zugdidi. Most illicit cigarettes were purchased at kiosks or informal outlets. This estimate might be conservative, as 28% of respondents did not show any packs to the surveyors.

Conclusions Despite recent tobacco tax increases, illicit cigarette trade in Georgia seems to be negligible. The market is more vulnerable to illicit cigarette trade close to the border with Abkhazia (near Zugdidi). Tighter control or ban of tobacco sales at kiosks and informal outlets may reduce illicit cigarette trade. Further investigation is planned to better understand why a large proportion of survey participants said they had no pack available at home.

  • economics
  • illegal tobacco products
  • low/middle income country
  • public policy
  • taxation

Statistics from


  • Contributor HR conceptualised the research and designed the questionnaires with the input from the rest of the team. GB is the principal investigator and managed the project in Georgia. IK managed the data collection. ML and IK analysed the data. The results were synthesised and written by ML and HR, with inputs from GB and IK.

  • Funding This research was made possible by funding from Cancer Research UK (IRMA number 30845).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval The survey was executed following the ethics rules of the Republic of Georgia.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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