The Trade in Fake Cigarettes

Around 90 percent of the smuggled cigarettes bearing Philip Morris International brand names seized by law enforcement in 2011 were fakes—counterfeits of our famous brands.

The trade in counterfeit cigarettes has been a problem for years, and it is a growing global problem that hurts tobacco manufacturers like us to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

In addition to tricking smokers into buying fake cigarettes, the trade in counterfeit cigarettes supports organized crime. According to a U.K. Border Agency spokesperson, “Cigarette smuggling is a serious organized crime and often provides the funding for much larger criminal operations such as drug smuggling or people trafficking.” [1]

It is also important to note that fake cigarettes are often of substandard quality and do not comply with government and industry standards. According to U.K. Customs, “Many of the counterfeit cigarettes are manufactured in underground factories overseas using contaminated tobacco leaves, substantially increasing the health risks associated with smoking, with much higher levels of tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide, lead, cadmium, and arsenic than genuine brand-name cigarettes.” [2]  In addition, with fake cigarettes, consumers buy cigarettes that are transported and stored in unhygienic conditions.

So what can be done?

  • Governments need to recognize that cigarette counterfeiting is a serious criminal offence. They need to tackle the problem in the same ways that they fight organized crime. 
  • Customs authorities’ ability to stop the trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes needs to be strengthened. 
  • Additional enforcement resources are key to the successful fight against counterfeit cigarettes.
  • The machinery used to produce counterfeit goods, as well as the counterfeit goods themselves, need to be seized and destroyed.
  • Consumers can be more vigilant and take care to purchase only products from legitimate tobacco retailers. 

Counterfeiters cannot be put out of business until everyone recognizes counterfeiting as the serious problem it is.


[1] The Observer (2009)

[2], Government warns of hazardous fake cigarettes (2004)

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