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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 6 June 2013

EU strategy to step up fight against illicit tobacco trade

See also MEMO/13/509

Today the European Commission has adopted a comprehensive package to step up its fight against illicit tobacco trade, especially cigarette smuggling. The illicit tobacco trade is a global threat depriving Member States and the EU of over €10 billion revenue every year in terms of unpaid taxes and duties. Not only does this hit national revenues hard, illicit trade also fuels the shadow economy since it is almost exclusively the domain of organised criminal groups operating across borders. Furthermore, it also undermines health policy initiatives aimed at discouraging the consumption of tobacco products and legitimate business as most illicit products are not made in line with EU rules on tobacco products. To effectively tackle the problem of illicit tobacco trade, the Commission's strategy sets out a number of coordinated measures at national, EU and international level.

Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner for Taxation, Customs Union, Anti-Fraud and Audit, said:

"Every year €10 billion is lost to the EU and its Member States due to cigarette smuggling. In particular in these times of drastic spending cuts, this is an unacceptable loss. It's necessary to stop the illegal activities of sinister criminals that fuel the shadow economy. With today's package of measures to clamp down on cigarette smuggling, we can help to better protect the public purse, the health of our citizens and legitimate businesses."

The strategy proposes specific actions in 4 key areas to efficiently tackle the illicit trade in tobacco products:

  • Measures to decrease incentives for smuggling activities

  • Measures to improve the security of the supply chain

  • Stronger enforcement of tax, customs, police and border authorities; and

  • Heavier sanctions for smuggling activities

The strategy also analyses existing legislation and policies, identifies weaknesses and gaps, and proposes additional reinforced actions. It also seeks to better coordinate existing policies and tools as the fight against illicit trade is a cross-cutting issue, as well as to improve cooperation between the various actors at EU, national and international level. The implementation of concrete measures and actions in the strategy are set out in an Action Plan.

The Commission invites the European Parliament and the Council to discuss the measures proposed in the Communication and its Action Plan and to support the Commission and the Member States in their implementation by the end of 2015.


The European Commission and Member States have already taken action to curb illegal tobacco trade. For example, in 2011, the Commission presented an Action Plan to tackle smuggling at the EU's Eastern land border to address problems identified in that particular geographical area (IP/11/783, MEMO/11/454). Despite these efforts, the overall illicit trade is increasing. With the EU facing a rising illicit influx of brands coming from outside the EU as well as increased illicit production and distribution inside the EU, a comprehensive approach is necessary to tackle the problem of illicit tobacco trade.

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Contacts :

Emer Traynor (+32 2 292 15 48)

Natasja Bohez Rubiano (+32 2 296 64 70)

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