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Illicit Trade

Management Approach

RAI and its subsidiaries believe that cigarette counterfeiters and smugglers undermine health and fiscal policy and hurt legitimate businesses and communities. We support efforts to educate elected officials, law enforcement and the public about the illicit trade of tobacco products as well as efforts to combat its growth.

cigarette smuggling

Cigarettes are taxed on a national, state and often, local level. The tobacco excise tax rates adopted by different states and localities, often neighboring localities, may vary substantially from one another. These tax differentials have contributed to the purchase and illegal resale of cigarettes across markets, known as cigarette smuggling. A 2016 literature review from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy shows that smuggled cigarettes may account for nearly a third of the entire U.S. cigarette market. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reports that illicit trade results in the loss of billions of dollars in tax revenue annually for federal and state governments.

"One consequence of high state cigarette tax rates has been increased smuggling as criminals procure discounted packs from low-tax states to sell in high-tax states. Growing cigarette tax differentials have made cigarette smuggling both a national problem and a lucrative criminal enterprise.”
Tax Foundation, 2015 report

Societal Impacts

As state and local governments pass additional tobacco product excise taxes to increase revenue, illicit trade continues to grow. This illicit trade has several unintended consequences, such as

  • Undermining Youth Tobacco Prevention efforts. The illegal resale of cheaper cigarettes compromises Youth Tobacco Prevention efforts because criminals don’t care to whom they sell.
  • Declining tax revenue for our communities. Since the appropriate taxes are not paid on the illegal sale of cigarettes, illicit trade contributes to the loss of state and local tax revenue. According to the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, “…[t]he illicit tobacco market results in the loss of government revenues. In the United States, these losses are especially incurred by the states: at least $2.95 billion were lost in state tax revenues in 2010-2011.”

working with law enforcement

RAI and its subsidiaries support law enforcement to combat illicit trade, assisting in investigations into alleged illegal operations, as well as assisting in the detection of counterfeit products and identifying websites suspected of trafficking counterfeit tobacco products. We support dedicating increased law enforcement resources, increased penalties and funding to combat this criminal activity.

Our companies engage with diverse stakeholder groups including law enforcement, tax administrators, community and neighborhood groups, legislators and others to raise awareness of this problem. RAI supports the National Sheriffs’ Association in its program to combat illicit trade by increasing awareness and providing training to law enforcement across the United States.