Task Force Tobacco discusses the fight against illicit tobacco trade under the COVID-19

        On 18-19 November, the EUBAM Annual Task Force Tobacco meeting was held in a video-conference format. The event brought together representatives of law enforcement agencies of the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, EU agencies such as Europol and OLAF, as well as Ukrainian Tobacco Association “Ukrtutun” and the major cigarette producers.

        The event provided an excellent opportunity for the participants to share their experience and exchange views on trends, modus operandi, risks, and countermeasures for preventing illicit tobacco trade. It was noted that the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant decrease in the small-scale cigarette smuggling, though it did not affect the large-scale illicit whites trafficking by transnational organized crime groups. That posed a high pressure on the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine as transit countries, as well as on EU member states as the final destinations. The participants also acknowledged a growing illicit cigarette market in the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, highlighting that increase of excise taxes for cigarettes and presence of organized crime groups make both countries more vulnerable for cigarette smuggling and illegal production for internal consumption.

        In this connection, the Task Force Tobacco pointed out the importance of information exchange on risky cigarette consignments, as well as increased investments and use of non-intrusive cargo examination technologies such as X-ray scanners. Those would improve detection of cigarettes and other illicit goods, enhancing the efficiency of border and customs controls. It was furthermore emphasized the need of strengthening institutions’ legal enforcement capabilities, in addition to introducing the penalization of excisable goods smuggling and deterrent and punitive measures into criminal laws, mandatory for effectively address or minimize those risks.