Recent evidence on the illicit cigarette trade in Latin America

Drope et al.

The tobacco industry continues to present the illicit trade of tobacco products as a reason to slow, stop, or reverse tobacco control efforts in Latin America, including increasing tobacco excise taxes. In most cases, industry estimates of illicit trade, usually non-transparent and flawed, dwarf those of independent, rigorous research. Often, independent studies find that the levels of illicit trade are mostly non-consequential or easily manageable (<12%). Almost always, industry findings grossly overestimate the illicit market. Fortunately, a burgeoning empirical literature in the region—including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay—is illuminating the genuine levels and nature of this trade, typically employing gap analysis that compares tax-paid sales to consumption and/or pack inspection studies using packs shown by smokers in surveys or discarded in the streets or garbage. Additional research in countries including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Paraguay examines supply chains to help identify the illicit sources. This research is already
helping governments to address any real problems with illicit trade and to reassure stakeholders that tobacco control efforts should be strengthened, not diminished.

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