Smuggling keeps the poor smoking; tobacco companies keep the smugglers busy – comment on study published in BMJ

Friday 27 July 2001

ASH press release


Embargo: 00:01 Friday 27 July 2001


Smuggling keeps the poor smoking; tobacco companies keep the smugglers busy


A new study published in the British Medical Journal  shows that low-income smokers regard the support for helping them to quit to be inadequate, and a justification for buying from smugglers, who they regard as providing a valuable service.


Clive Bates, Director of ASH commented:


“Smoking is the major driver of health inequalities in Britain – and a financial burden on the poor.  Over half of the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor can be explained by the difference in smoking rates.   Quitting smoking is one of the single best ways to improve the health and welfare of a poor family, but smuggling undermines all the policies aimed at helping poor people quit.


“The service offered by smugglers is like the service offered by drug dealers – they might look like a friendly source of supply, but they just want your money and don’t care about your life.   Helping people to carry on smoking is just about the worst favour you can do them – a bit like transmitting a disease, and making them pay as well.”


ASH pointed out that tobacco tax revenue was over £7.5 billion, but spending on anti-smoking programmes is around £40 million – tax being 188 times greater.


“We think the government should be putting more of the tobacco tax back to poor smokers to help them quit.  Alan Milburn should ring-fence at least one penny in the pound and create a special fund for persuading and helping smokers to quit.”


It is increasingly accepted that tobacco companies have been orchestrating smuggling for their own commercial and political ends.   Clive Bates said:


“Many low level sellers of smuggled cigarettes will have no idea that the source was Balkan, Russian and Italian mafia.  The tobacco companies need to explain why they ship cigarettes that are only sold in Britain by the container load to countries where the only obvious purchasers are organised crime syndicates.


“This isn’t White Van Man at work, but a much bigger and nastier criminal enterprise with some very serious villains at the top and routine violence and intimidation at the bottom.  They are not really friends of the community, but blood-suckers and predators.


ASH doesn’t want the police and Customs to focus effort on those that buy smuggled cigarettes, but on the wholesale trade thatfeeds the black market. Clive Bates said:


“We think it is important to tackle the movements of freight containers from factories in Belfast and Nottingham and to stop these reaching Mafiosi.  It’s better to turn of the tap at source than to try to tackle the flood of cheap cigarettes once they are in the hands of thousands of small time petty crooks.



[1] Wiltshire S. et al  “They’re doing people a service” – qualitative study of smoking, smuggling and social deprivation.  BMJ 2001; 323:203-7


Contact Clive Bates: 020 7739 5902 (office) 0776879 1237 (mobile).