THE prevalence of cigarette smuggling in countries like Ireland is lower than tobacco industry figures suggest.
A new report published today – based on the largest study of its kind – shows that ease of availability rather than price determines the extent of the illicit trade in Europe.
The findings, published in the journal 'Tobacco Control', say this directly contradicts arguments put forward by the tobacco industry.
The study was led by the Association of European Cancer Leagues' Foundation Against Cancer in Brussels.
The findings are based on a representative population sample of 1,000 people from 18 European countries: Ireland, Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, England, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden.
It comes just days after the Budget hike of 10 cent on a pack of 20 cigarettes by Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who was subject to strong warnings about smuggling.
In the study, only tobacco purchased from unauthorised sources or sold at heavily discounted prices from legitimate retailers was defined as having been illicitly traded.
Health warnings or tax stamps that were either absent or inappropriately tampered with were deemed the hallmarks of smuggled products, as well as clearly being from a duty-free outlet.
Among the 18,056 participants, 5,268 (27pc) classified themselves as current smokers. The final analysis was based on the responses of 5,114.
When asked about the origin of their tobacco products, most respondents said they had bought them from a legal source. Just 4pc said they had purchased their tobacco illegally, amounting to 296 packs.
The only distinguishing feature of the buyers of illicitly traded products was their educational attainment; those with low levels were significantly more likely to buy them.
Two-thirds (65.5pc) of illicitly traded packs had an inappropriate health warning; half had an inappropriate tax stamp; and just over one in four (27pc) had been bought at a knockdown price.
At the other end of the scale, the prevalence of illicitly traded tobacco was 1pc or less in Greece, Austria and Portugal.