The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the French Customs held the 25th annual Task Group Cigarettes Conference, gathering European Union (EU) member states and neighbouring countries to focus on joining forces to fight tobacco smuggling and illicit cigarette production, reports OCCRP.
The conference, held 14-16 Nov. in Bordeaux, France, noted that cigarette smuggling is a significant source of cash for criminal gangs and costs the EU millions of dollars each year in unpaid customs fees and taxes. “In 2021 alone, OLAF activities led to seizures of a total 437 million cigarettes, saving an estimated EUR 90 million in revenue loss,” OLAF said in a statement.
The anti-fraud office also warned that smuggled tobacco poses significant hazards to both consumers and companies, hinders anti-smoking and public health programmes, and breaches the EU’s rigorous manufacturing, distribution, and sale regulations. Therefore, “cooperation between experts from EU member states, third countries and OLAF is key to stopping and preventing illicit tobacco trade,” the statement said.
Some 90 experts from EU member states as well as other countries, including Georgia, Israel, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, shared their perspectives and expertise in combating cigarette smuggling and illegal manufacture. They also discussed the possible impact of the ongoing war in Ukraine on cigarette smuggling routes, as well as illegal production and trafficking in water pipe tobacco, which has increased significantly in the last few years, according to OLAF.