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Measuring illicit cigarette trade in Colombia
  1. Norman Maldonado1,
  2. Blanca Amalia Llorente1,
  3. Roberto Magno Iglesias2,
  4. Diego Escobar3
    1. 1Fundación Anáas, Bogotá, Colombia
    2. 2Center of Studies on Integration and Development (CINDES), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    3. 3FINAC, Bogotá, Colombia
    1. Correspondence to Norman Maldonado, Fundación Anáas, Bogotá 110221, Colombia; normanmva{at}


    Background By 2016, tobacco industry provided the only illicit trade estimates in Colombia and used these to discourage tax increases since the 1990s. To establish the viability of a threefold hike in the excise tax, policy makers needed unbiased estimates of the illicit cigarette.

    Objective To estimate the size of illicit cigarette trade in five Colombian cities (63% of the market), analyse characteristics of smokers of illicit cigarettes and compare market share results with one industry-funded survey.

    Methods Street cross-sectional survey with smokers’ self-report on consumption pattern, last purchase information and direct observation of smoker’s packs. Sampling frame: smokers, men and women, 12 years old or older, all income levels, resident in five Colombian cities (Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Cartagena and Cúcuta) with 1 733 316 smokers in 2013. Sample size 1697, simple random sample by city, sampling weights based on age groups and cities. Confidence level 95%, margin of error 3.5% for Bogotá and Medellín and 5% for the other three cities. Data collection period: 24 August–14 September 2016.

    Results Illicit cigarettes represent 3.5% of consumption in the five cities, a much lower estimate than the industry data. There are significant differences across cities, with Bogotá at the bottom (1.5%) and Cúcuta at the top (22.8%).

    Conclusion The low overall penetration of illicit cigarettes in Colombia indicates that the industry’s warnings against tax increases are not justified. The limited importance of tax levels as determinant of consumption of illicit cigarettes is also suggested by the differences across cities, all of them with the same tax regime.

    • Illegal Tobacco Products
    • Low/middle Income Country
    • Taxation
    • Surveillance And Monitoring
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    • Contributors NM: conceived and designed the study, led data analysis and interpretation and drafted and edited the paper. BAL: conceived and designed the study, performed data analysis and interpretation, drafted and edited the paper and responsible for final approval of the paper. RMI: read and analysed documents, advised on study design and revised the manuscript. DE: read and analysed documents, responsible for sample design, revised the manuscript and responsible for primary data collection. All four authors take responsibility for the content of the paper.

    • Funding This work was supported by grant number 38082 from American Cancer Society.

    • Competing interests None declared.

    • Patient consent Detail has been removed from this case description/these case descriptions to ensure anonymity. The editors and reviewers have seen the detailed information available and are satisfied that the information backs up the case the authors are making.

    • Ethics approval Comité de Ética en Investigación Clínica, Clínica del Country.

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

    • Data sharing statement We shall make micro data set, including variables on smoking consumption, brands, price and identification of illicit cigarettes, available to the scientific community with as few restrictions as feasible while retaining exclusive use until the publication of major outputs. Requirements include the submission of a request form and signing a conflict of interest statement. Photographs of the packs are readily available. This information can be obtained by contacting the corresponding author.

    • Collaborators Jeffrey Drope, Nigar Nargis, Michal Stoklosa.

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