Illicit Trade in Tobacco during COVID-19

Media coverages of illicit trade in tobacco products are typically generated from industry or government sources. A majority of cigarette illicit trade studies are linked to the tobacco industry. A recent UK study shows how “Tobacco companies have been able to disseminate their research to wide audiences in their attempts to increase the public perception that illicit trade is ever increasing, while there remain doubts as to whether this is in fact the case.” This page lists the news articles on smuggling during the pandemic. A quick review shows that smuggling reports are used to justify a relaxation of sales restrictions during the lockdown. Almost all the reports show a disregard for the Guidelines to Implement Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC which underscores the need to reject tobacco industry partnerships.





      April 26, 2020

No breathing space for tobacco firms as illicit traders get innovative

“Illicit cigarettes are being sold online and food delivery providers are bringing them to the doorstep. This is expected to continue even after the pandemic comes to an end.”

      April 17, 2020

Border security integral in preventing illicit trade

“Malaysian borders are filled with numerous ‘rat lanes’ or ‘lorong tikus’ that allow illegal or undocumented travellers from other countries to penetrate Malaysia and potentially bring the Covid-19 virus with them.”

      April 16, 2020

Border security during Covid-19 crucial to prevent contagion, illicit trade — consultant

“During this period of lockdown in the fight against Covid-19, border security is crucial to safeguard lives as well as businesses, according to the international law enforcement consultant and founder of the Illicit Tobacco Strike Team of the Australian Border Force, Rohan Pike”

      April 13, 2020

Illegal cigarette dealers seek novel ways to hoodwink authorities

“Syndicates had utilised e-commerce and social media platforms along with e-hailing and courier services to cater for the spike in demand.”


      May 20, 2020

Illicit trade of cigarettes: ‘Further rise in share may result in closure of factories’

“Pakistan’s desire to become an export hub for the region will be hit, as it will be forced to become an importer of tobacco products”

      April 30, 2020

Higher tobacco taxation to help fight COVID 19

“Anti-tobacco advocates have urged the government to take measures to reduce the consumption of cigarettes because of the risks associated with COVID-19 for smokers. They have called for imposing a surcharge of Rs. 10 to raise cigarette prices, an effective method of decreasing cigarette consumption while generating Rs. 40 Billion in revenue.”

      April 28, 2020

Legal businesses in peril: ‘Higher taxation to boost illicit tobacco trade’

“The wide presence of illicit cigarette in the domestic market is causing Rs 44 billion annual loss to the exchequer in shape of revenue.”

      March 18, 2020

Cost of illicit cigarette trade

Pakistan ranks 1st in illicit trade of cigarettes in Asia


      May 01, 2020

P200M in fake cigarettes seized in Valenzuela

USD3 million (PHP200million) worth of fake cigarettes

      April 21, 2020

Cigarette smuggling up despite lockdown

“Restrictions on the movement of cigarettes under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) might be lifted, but still under consideration because the absence of cigarettes encourages illicit trade”

      April 16, 2020

P8.275 million worth of smuggled cigarettes seized in Zamboanga City

 USD160,000  (PHP8.275 million)

      March 06, 2020

P3-million fake cigarettes seized in Zamboanga raid

USD59,000 (PHP3 million) fake cigarettes

        South Africa

      April 17, 2020

Spotlight on illicit trade amid Lockdown

“Managing-Director of Business Against Crime SA, Tebele Luthuli says the reasons for ban on the sale of cigarettes, though, remain unclear and should be open for discussion and review.”

      April 09, 2020

Concern about illegal immigrants returning when lockdown is lifted

“ “Porous” land borders, especially with Mozambique and Zimbabwe, have been brought into the coronavirus battle by the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) which is concerned about illegal immigrants returning to South Africa once the lockdown is over.”

      April 02, 2020

Bheki Cele warns DA-led Western Cape that sale of cigarettes remains illegal

“Banning tobacco sales encourages South Africa’s 11 million smokers to seek their cigarettes from illegal traders, fuelling the illicit economy and spreading the virus by increasing people’s movements” – Police Minister Bheki Cele


      April 30, 2020

Ukrainians began to smoke less: unexpected reasons

““Most likely, there will be a reduction in consumption of about 10% year-round, which is fully correlated with previous years. There are a number of reasons for this: part of the stores closed, people stop smoking, switch to smuggled goods, which are several times cheaper, etc.” – the experts specified.”


      April 26, 2020

Illegal cigarettes on the Southwest border increased during the epidemic season

“At Moc Bai border gate area, in addition to coordinating with anti-epidemic forces Covid-19, Customs forces have also strictly controlled acts of illegally transporting goods through border gates.”

      April 26, 2020

Southwest border: The price difference, cigarette smuggling increased

“…due to the high price difference of foreign cigarettes from the Cambodian and Vietnamese borders, from VND8,000 to VND10,000 per pack, this smuggling activity has increased sharply recently.”


Industry Link

        South Africa


      May 6, 2020

FITA says tobacco ban is increasing illicit trade of cigarettes

“The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association has submitted a 106-page affidavit in its urgent court bid to overturn the ban on cigarette sales during the country’s Covid-19 lockdown.”

Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita)

      April 18, 2020

“Illicit trade flourishes whilst legitimate tobacco industry is prevented from participating” – Fita

“Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita)  says  it had come to the decision to approach the courts to reverse the cigarette ban” 

Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita)

      April 12, 2020

Shadow economy keeps SA boozing during lockdown

“Scouting for booze [liquor] and cigarettes takes place through WhatsApp groups under hashtags such as #ImAskingForSomeoneElse or #HelpingAFriendInNeed.”

Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association and British American Tobacco

         United Kingdom


      May 18, 2020

Retailers report tobacco sales surge as lockdown hits illicit trade

“Legitimate tobacco sales through convenience stores appear to have surged during the lockdown period which severed many of the links between illicit sellers and smokers.” 


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