Did the Tobacco Industry Inflate Estimates of Illicit Cigarette Consumption in Asia? (2015)

Author: Jing Chen et al.


Objective: Estimates of illicit cigarette consumption are limited and the data obtained from studies funded by the tobacco industry have a tendency to inflate them. This study aimed to validate an industry-funded estimate of 35.9% for Hong Kong using a framework taken from an industry-funded report, but with more transparent data sources.

Methods: Illicit cigarette consumption was estimated as the difference between total cigarette consumption and the sum of legal domestic sales and legal personal imports (duty-free consumption). Reliable data from government reports and scientifically valid routine sources were used to estimate the total cigarette consumption by Hong Kong smokers and legal domestic sales in Hong Kong. Consumption by visitors and legal duty-free consumption by Hong Kong passengers were estimated under three scenarios for the assumptions to examine the uncertainty around the estimate. A two-way sensitivity analysis was conducted using different levels of possible undeclared smoking and under-reporting of self-reported daily consumption.

Results: Illicit cigarette consumption was estimated to be about 8.2–15.4% of the total cigarette consumption in Hong Kong in 2012 with a midpoint estimate of 11.9%, as compared with the industry-funded estimate of 35.9% of cigarette consumption. The industry-funded estimate was inflated by 133–337% of the probable true value. Only with significant levels of under-reporting of daily cigarette consumption and undeclared smoking could we approximate the value reported in the industry-funded study.

Conclusions: The industry-funded estimate inflates the likely levels of illicit cigarette consumption.

Read more: Tobacco Control