MEP demands EU gets tough to snuff out illicit cigarette trading - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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MEP demands EU gets tough to snuff out illicit cigarette trading

Monday, 1 February 2010
A Belgian MEP has warned the EU that it must play a leading roll in upcoming negotiations to combat the trade of illicit cigarettes or it will face another 'Copenhagen Scenario' where there "are lots of promising words, but no binding agreement".

Bart Staes (Greens, BE), speaking ahead of an evening conference held in Brussels to push for more EU leadership on the issue, said that “it's essential the EU takes the lead in the final negotiations and helps to win international support for a strong Protocol to combat the illicit tobacco trade. Anything less risks resembling the disappointing outcome of the UN Climate summit in Copenhagen."

Polish authorities seizing illicit cigarettes (Photo: Telegraph)Mr Staes said illegal cigarette trade in the European Union accounts for 10% of the market, and in some western and northern African countries this share is as high as 80%. As a consequence it takes away roughly €35 billion from governments every year in lost tax revenues, and cheaper cigarettes contribute to increasing numbers of smokers and deaths.

The United Nations is due next month (14-21 March) to convene to discuss a new Illicit Trade protocol that would create a binding international agreement to combat the massive market of illegal tobacco sales.

Mr Staes is hoping this protocol will see international tracing and tracking systems put in place to enable authorities to better track where the cigarettes travel to and from, in addition to requiring trading countries to hold valid licenses, the sale of tobacco over the Internet to be restricted or banned, and will make illegal trading a more serious crime in the eyes of the law, which is hoped to act as a deterrent.

Austin Rowen, head of Unit at the Commission's Cigarettes task group at the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) said: "the illicit trade is a global problem which impacts on everyone. This is a unique opportunity to enhance international cooperation which is essential in tackling the illicit trade."

He cited the examples of Antwerp, Hamburg and Rotterdam where the "traffic at the port is just too much to fully regulate" and referred to a recent case where cigarettes have entered the EU from the Philippines as a boat's cargo that was declared as animal feed.

"Illegal cigarettes are cheaper so interest more consumers," commented Luk Joossens, an expert in illicit tobacco trade. "If the phenomenon is eradicated," he continued, "governments would have an extra €30 billion in revenues annually and by 2030 160,000 people's lives would have been saved."

The protocol is a supplementary to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), passed in 2005, was the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organisation. Currently it has the signature of 168 countries around the world, including all but one EU member state (Czech Republic).

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