Illegal cigarettes are a growing problem worldwide. But in Trinidad it prompted the Minister of Health to give off a warning to the general public. Trinidad’s market is being flooded by illegal cigarettes containing a severe amount of toxic metals, seriously endangering public health on the island.
That the problem of illegal cigarettes and illicit trade is not exclusive to Trinidad is made clear by the fact that the subject was the central topic of discussion at the Anti-Illicit Trade Regional Conference hosted by British American Tobacco (BAT) Caribbean. The conference was held in Georgetown, Guyana, in collaboration with Demerara Tobacco Company and Crime Stoppers International. High-level law enforcement, industry and customs officials from T&T, Guyana, Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Suriname came together to deliberate tobacco smuggling within the region, a dilemma which representatives stated results in significant losses in revenue for governments and for legitimate businesses, as well as exposes consumers to risky and unregulated products.
National security issue
Conclusion was that the illicit trade in illegal cigarettes not only affects legitimate businesses but also governments, civil society and individuals. Cesar Agurcia, a senior manager for the BAT’s interests in the Caribbean and Central America, said the following: “This is a national security issue, because it has been globally proven that the profits of illicit trade are going to criminal organisations around the world,” he said. According to the latest estimates there are 600 billion illegal cigarettes under the contraband scheme, representing a loss of US$ 50-60 billion for governments in tax revenues.
Illegal cigarettes inferior
Conference co-host Crime Stoppers International, called for public and private institutions to work together to take swift action against the illicit trade. Darrin Carmichael, consultant for Crime Stoppers International, said: “Crime Stoppers International recognises that illicit trade is a growing problem worldwide, be it smuggling, counterfeiting, or tax evasion. Governments across the globe are losing billions of dollars in tax revenues. Legitimate businesses are being undermined and consumers in all our communities are exposed to unregulated, poor made and inferior products.”