Uncover you country’s secret cigarette smuggling industry

”Everything is legal until it’s not”.

Mari Hauge Åsland, 11.09.2008 21:10

Almost 10 percent of all cigarettes in Europe are illegal. Tobacco smuggling and fake cigarettes is a global multi-billion Euro industry. Two reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting have taken matters into their own hands and figured out the Tobacco Road from the manufacturer to the, almost always unaware buyers.

With prices for a pack of cigarettes ranging from about 0.2 euros in Ukraine to almost 9 euros in UK and Norway, the circumstances for tobacco smuggling should be good.
Investigating tobacco from seven countries
Paul Radu (Romania) and Drew Sullivan (U.S., now living in Bosnia) of the Center for Investigative Reporting have written several articles and made a documentary about the tobacco smuggling in the Balkans. During the 90s, with Balkan at war, about 30 percent of the tobacco was smuggled.
They are with the organization Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting, and have investigated the tobacco industry for about a year, a large investigation project involving journalists from seven countries. To work together, they used a collaborative software, an interactive newsroom, so that they can share their work, information and findings.
In Balkan hundreds of companies are involved in tobacco, and the line between legal and illegal is dodgy and grey.
The tobacco smuggled is normally imported to Montenegro, the 5th largest tobacco importing country in the world – with a population of only 600,000 people. Before it reaches for instance Ukraine, the tobacco goes through both Gibraltar, Guinea and Dubai.
- The cigarettes may end up in a warehouse in Dubai, and then go to a so-called shady company in Romania for instance, before they are sent to dutyfree shops on land borders, Radu says.

Good stories on tobacco
Drew Sullivan says there are lots of good stories on tobacco, both on smuggling, the health effect, how the tobacco is manufactured and organized.
- More journalists should work with this stuff, because the industry is mostly the same in every country, he says.
His best tips on how the report on tobacco are as follows:
  • Find the places where illegal tobacco is sold, and look at the tax stamps and proper warning labels.
  • Understand the system. Find out who is manufacturing the tobacco – is it a big or small firm? Who distributes it? Is there a regional or sub distributor?
  • Talk to tax authorities, customs and borders.
  • Remember what people in the industry say: ”Everything is legal until it’s not”.
  • Figure out the players: Talk to regulators, hang out with customs, find out where you can buy cheap cigarettes, try to find illegal distributions, check import and export records and visit the shops where illegal cigarettes are found.