One cigarette in every ten sold in the European Union has been illegally imported. To combat the booming business in smuggled tobacco from Eastern Europe and Asia, Brussels has decided to tighten security on the EU’s external borders. Poland is in the front line of the war on the cigarette smugglers.
Brussels is mobilising for a crackdown on cigarette smugglers. The barrier against illegal tobacco will be erected on the Polish border, because the amount of smuggled goods traversing the country has reached a record high. Last year, police and customs agents intercepted almost 750 million contraband cigarettes, close to 100 million more than the previous year. Despite these huge numbers, they only succeed in seizing a fraction of the smuggled merchandise routed via Poland, which has become a distribution hub for contraband from the East destined for the countries of the European Union.
Cigarette smuggling is particularly lucrative, because the successful transfer of a container of 100,000 packets of cigarettes from Poland to the United Kingdom can yield a 500,000-euro return on investment, and similar gains can be obtained on other EU markets. Tobacco has now become the most smuggled product in Europe. For the international gangs that organize the traffic, it is even more profitable than drug smuggling. Both of these illicit trades offer a similar potential for profit, but sanctions for tobacco smuggling are much more lenient than they are for drugs, and in many countries, tobacco smugglers also benefit from a large degree of tolerance from the general public, explains Piotr Dziedzic, department chief of the Polish Ministry of Finance’s anti-crime bureau. A packet of cigarettes that can be bought for as little as 50 euro cents in Ukraine is worth four times as much when it crosses the Polish border. Once it reaches Germany, it can be sold for as much as five euros, and smuggled into the UK or Norway, it can even obtain a price of eight or nine euros.