A recent investigation revealed that New Zealand customs officers are currently seizing around 125,000 smuggled cigarettes and 155 kilograms of loose tobacco every month. The most recent estimate for the United Kingdom says tobacco smuggling costs the taxpayer £2.2 billion a year (1).
Kiwi Customs says that large scale, commercial-grade cigarette smuggling is a lucrative market, eight times more profitable than cocaine. It doesn’t help that the country has the most expensive cigarettes for legal purchase in the world.
“With the Government set to get even tougher on the appeal and availability of legal cigarettes, there is a concern it will only lead to more illicit cigarette smuggling. It doesn’t have to be the case though, particularly if smokers are activity encouraged to switch to safer nicotine products,” says Loucas.
Associate Health Minster Dr Ayesha Verrall is now finalising the Kiwi Government’s Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan after releasing a discussion document for public consultation which closed on 31 May.
Loucas, the co-director of Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA), says the organisation is highly supportive of getting tough on combustible tobacco given 5,000 Kiwis continue to die every year from smoking-related illnesses. It’s concerned, however, that the discussion document was light on vaping’s key role in achieving smokefree. It has pushed for vaping – the world’s most effective smoking cessation tool – to feature more in the final smokefree action plan.
“We’ve got to get more Kiwis successfully off the cancer sticks in the first place, otherwise many will head to the black market. If we can switch them from cigarettes to vaping, not only will it save countless lives, but it will put a hole in organised crime,” she says.
In May, University of Otago public health experts published “Illicit tobacco trade and the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Goal: Arguments and Evidence”. In it, the authors claimed “NZ’s illicit tobacco market is small and unlikely to grow substantially” – something that is demonstrably untrue.
“We knew they were wrong then, but they’ve now been proven woefully out of touch. They argue getting tougher on legal smoking won’t make much difference at the border. AVCA argues it will be an absolute nightmare for Customs, unless many more smokers are actively encouraged to switch to vaping,” says Nancy Loucas.
The UK would do well to heed her words and stand up to pressure in the forthcoming World Health Organization COP9 conference – promoting vaping in the strongest possible terms - not just for us, but for citizens of the world.
Tobacco Smuggling in the UK - https://tobaccotactics.org/wiki/tobacco-smuggling-in-the-uk/