The researchers from the University’s Tobacco Control Group provide evidence of tobacco company involvement in cigarette smuggling to and through Bulgaria from 1975 onwards.
The team discovered internal tobacco industry documents which revealed how tobacco companies actively participated in the illegal import of their cigarettes into Bulgaria often using the duty-free trade façade as a cover. The companies also smuggled cigarettes through Bulgaria to other countries, such as Turkey and Italy, which officially were closed markets at the time.
The European Community filed a law-suit in 2000 against the major tobacco corporations for involvement in smuggling and has since reached a series of agreements with these companies on illicit trade.
However, the researchers point to sources which suggest that tobacco company involvement in smuggling through and from Bulgaria continued after the 2000 European Community law-suit and subsequent legal agreements. They found that corruption and possible political involvement in smuggling are also underlying concerns. They point to evidence which suggests Bulgaria’s state-owned tobacco company may have also been involved in smuggling its own cigarettes for sale both within and outside Bulgaria.
Dr Valeria Skafida from the research group and first author of the paper said: “Despite this documented involvement in cigarette smuggling, we found evidence that transnational tobacco companies now appear to exaggerate the scale of the illicit tobacco trade in order to successfully convince politicians, public health experts and the press that tobacco tax increases lead to cigarette smuggling.”
Tax increases are one of the most effective means of reducing tobacco use and evidence shows that large scale cigarette smuggling is unrelated to cigarette prices.
The researchers also found that British American Tobacco and Philip Morris tried, and continue to try, to influence tobacco tax policies in Bulgaria.
The research revealed how tobacco companies lobbied Bulgarian government officials and tried to influence tobacco excise tax policy to favour their own brands. Interviews with Bulgarian government officials suggest that tobacco companies were ‘very aggressive’ in lobbying during Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union.
Professor Gilmore, director of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, added: “This research highlights the need for far greater transparency on the nature and scale of the illicit tobacco trade. It is dangerous to assume the tobacco industry is no longer involved in a trade that previous work shows was once core to its business strategy.
“An illicit trade protocol was adopted last week as part of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control despite attempts by the tobacco industry to shape the protocol in its own interests. It is important this protocol is now successfully implemented without industry interference.”
This is the first study to examine tobacco industry influence in Bulgaria, and is published in Tobacco Control last week. The research, led by Professor Anna Gilmore from the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, is based on an analysis of internal tobacco company documents (released through litigation in the US) and key informant interviews.
Following the European Community law-suit in 2000 against the major tobacco companies, legal settlements were reached with Philip Morris International in 2004, with Japan Tobacco International in 2007, and with Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco in 2010. These included the companies’ agreement to refrain from participating in or facilitating the illegal trade of their products.