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Illicit cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco in 18 European countries: a cross-sectional survey

1. Luk Joossens1,

2. Alessandra Lugo2,

3. Carlo La Vecchia2,3,

4. Anna B Gilmore4,

5. Luke Clancy5,

6. Silvano Gallus2

+ Author Affiliations

1. 1Association of European Cancer Leagues, Foundation against Cancer, Brussels, Belgium

2. 2Department of Epidemiology, Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milan, Italy

3. 3Department of Clinical Sciences and Community Health, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy

4. 4Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UK

5. 5TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland, Dublin, Ireland

1.     Correspondence to Luk Joossens, Foundation against Cancer, Chaussée de Louvain 479, Brussels B-1030, Belgium;

Received 18 June 2012

Accepted 10 October 2012

Published Online First 10 December 2012


Objective Little evidence, other than that commissioned by the tobacco industry, exists on the size of the illicit tobacco trade. This study addresses this gap by examining the level and nature of illicit cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco in 18 European countries.

Design Face-to-face cross-sectional survey on smoking.

Setting 18 European countries.

Participants For each country, around 1000 subjects representative of the population aged 15 and over were enrolled. Current cigarette smokers were asked to show their latest purchased pack of cigarettes or hand-rolled tobacco.

Main outcome measure A comprehensive measure called an Identification of an Illicit Pack (IIP) was used to study the extent of illicit trade, defining a pack as illicit if it had at least one of the following tax evasion indicators: (1) it was bought from illicit sources, as reported by smokers, (2) it had an inappropriate tax stamp, (3) it had an inappropriate health warning or (4) its price was substantially below the known price in their market.

Results Overall, the proportion of illicit packs was 6.5%. The highest prevalence of IIP was observed in Latvia (37.8%). Illicit packs were more frequent among less educated smokers and among those living in a country which shared a land or sea border with Ukraine, Russia, Moldova or Belarus. No significant association was found with price of cigarettes.

Conclusions This study indicates that IIP is less than 7% in Europe and suggests that the supply of illicit tobacco, rather than its price, is a key factor contributing to tax evasion

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