Cigarette smuggling

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Cigarettes found hidden in concrete blocks
Cigarette smuggling with a book

Cigarette smuggling, also informally referred to as "buttlegging," is the illicit transportation of cigarettes or cigars from an administrative division with low taxation to a division with high taxation for sale and consumption. The practice, commonly used by organized crime syndicates and rebel groups, is a form of tax evasion.[1]


In Ireland the Irish Republican Army smuggled cigarettes to raise money for weapons and equipment.[1]


In the Former Yugoslavia, Montenegro was known for being a haven for cigarette smuggling into Italy.[citation needed]

United States[edit]

In the United States, each of the fifty states taxes cigarette packs at a different rate. In 1992, states charged an average of 25 cents. By January 2002, that average increased to 45 cents. Six months later, states, trying to compensate for budget deficits, raised their cigarette taxes to an average 54 cents. According to John D'Angelo of the U.S. government's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), there is a "direct relationship between the increase in a state's tax and an increase in illegal trafficking." This is true with all psychotropic substances: the more the state tries to repress the trade with a legal or illegal substance, the higher the prices, and with them the profit margins, become--and the greater the willingness of illicit marketers to meet the demand, and with it the willingness to commit other violent crimes to prevent the closure of the illicit markets, becomes. This is known as "the forbidden-fruit effect," among other references.[citation needed] The U.S. government foiled funding operations by Al-Qaeda in New York in 1999 and Hezbollah in North Carolina in 2002.[1]

It has been reported that smuggling one truckload of cigarettes within the United States can lead to a profit of US$2 million.[2]

Laws specifically pertaining to cigarette smuggling in the United States include the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act of 1978, which makes cigarette smuggling a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The proposed Stop Tobacco Smuggling in the Territories Act of 2013, if it passes during the 113th United States Congress, would update the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act to include American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam, which were previously not covered by the law.[3]

One of the most notable places of cigarette smuggling in the United States is New York City. There, the cigarette tax is the highest in the nation, at $5.85 per pack. Smugglers purchase cigarettes in other lower-tax states, such as nearby Pennsylvania, where the tax rate is only $1.60 per pack. If smugglers travel further to even lower-tax states, they can buy cigarettes for even less, such as Virginia, where the tax is only $0.30 per pack.


As of 2009, illegal cigarettes are believed to be a $1.5 billion industry in Canada.[4] In Canada, between 63 and 79 per cent of the price of a package of cigarettes is tax. Many border-goers take advantage of the situation, not only in Canada but also in the U.S., the land that has traditionally imported rather than exported illegal goods. Canadian provinces with lower tobacco taxes have reported higher rates of smuggling,[5] and much of the smuggling is dominated by First Nations members (though the bulk of First Nations members and leadership have opposed and condemned tobacco smuggling). [5][6]

Ukraine – Schengen Area[edit]

A 700-meters smuggling tunnel with a narrow gauge railway was revealed in July 2012 between Uzhhorod (Ukraine) and Vyšné Nemecké (Slovakia), at the border of the Schengen Area. The tunnel used professional mining and security technologies. It was used primarily for smuggling of cigarettes.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bruce Bartlett (2002). "Cigarette Smuggling". National Center for Policy Analysis. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  2. ^ "Cigarette Smuggling Linked to Terrorism". 
  3. ^ "H.R. 338 -". United States Congress. Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Contenta, Sandro. "Cigarette smuggling rises in Canada", Global Post (2009)
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ "How Canada's natives became cigarette smugglers". 
  7. ^ "Slovaks find railway smuggling tunnel to Ukraine". Reuters. 

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