Article Text

Smoke signals: monitoring illicit cigarettes and smoking behaviour in Colombia to support tobacco taxes
  1. Norman Maldonado1,
  2. Blanca Llorente2,
  3. Diego Escobar3,
  4. Roberto Magno Iglesias4
  1. 1Department of Economics, International Trade and Social Policy, Universidad de Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Bogota, Colombia
  2. 2Fundación Anáas, Bogotá, Colombia, Bogota, Colombia
  3. 3FINAC, Bogotá, Colombia
  4. 4Center for Studies in Integration and Development (CINDES), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  1. Correspondence to Dr Norman Maldonado, Department of Economics, International Trade and Social Policy, Universidad de Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Bogotá 110311, Colombia; normanmva{at}


Background A street cross-sectional survey in 2016 with a representative sample of 1697 smokers in five Colombian cities was used to estimate the penetration of illicit cigarettes (PIC). The first wave was collected 3 months before a 100% increase in tobacco excise tax, and a second wave collected data 9 months after tax reform was effective.

Objective Analyse changes after a cigarette tax increase in PIC, prices and smoking behaviour patterns for five Colombian cities (63% of the market). Smoking behaviour includes consumption intensity, presentation (stick/pack) and place of purchase.

Methods Repeated street cross-sectional survey with smokers’ self-report on smoking behaviour, last purchase information and direct observation of smokers’ packs. Sampling frame: smokers, men and women, aged 12 years or older, all income levels, resident in the five cities with the highest number of smokers representing 63% of cigarette market share (Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Cartagena and Cúcuta) with 1 733 316 smokers in 2013. Sample size was 1697 per wave, with confidence level 95%, margin of error 3.5% for Bogotá and Medellín and 5% for the other three cities. Smokers in second wave match first wave’s location, sex and age group. Illicit cigarettes were identified based on brand, health warnings and price.

Results After the tax hike, the average real price of a 20-stick pack increased by 28.2% and by 23.1% for loose cigarettes. Illicit cigarettes represented 3.4% of total cigarette consumption in 2016 and increased to 6.4% in 2017, lower than the current industry estimate of 18%. Consumption intensity decreased: the proportion of heavy smokers (more than 10 cigarettes per day) wentdown from 37% in 2016 to 26% in 2017.

Conclusion After the tax increase, Colombia’s PIC remained at low levels, and there is enough space for new tobacco tax hikes.

  • illegal tobacco products
  • price
  • taxation
  • surveillance and monitoring

Statistics from


  • Contributors NM: conceived and designed the study, led data analysis and interpretation and drafted and edited the paper. BLl: conceived and designed the study, performed data analysis and interpretation, drafted and edited the paper and responsible for final approval of the paper. RMI: advised on study design and revised the manuscript. DE: 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 study was funded by American Cancer Society (TAAGBTACRUK) and Cancer Research UK (TAAGBTACRUK).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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

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