2022 offers an opportunity to revamp our fight against illicit trade—let’s take it

DECEMBER 17, 2021

Though we are still living through unprecedented times, as 2021 draws to a close we look to the new year hoping to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy. We see a resilient society leveraging COVID-19-era learnings, with breakthrough scientific findings and innovative technological advancements at the center of the world stage.

Unfortunately, over the past two years criminal organizations dealing in illicit trade have proven themselves to be just as resilient. They have adapted and optimized their illegal operations, from increasing illicit online sales to the growth of counterfeit production. 

A KPMG report that revealed illicit cigarette consumption rose for the first time across the EU since 2011 is a timely reminder that the global issue of illicit trade has continued throughout the pandemic and—in some respects—worsened. In fact, the report found that the consumption of counterfeit cigarettes almost doubled—it was the study’s highest level ever recorded. 

It remains vital that tools like effective regulation and international frameworks are employed to stymy these worrying trends. That’s one of the primary reasons that PMI supports the objectives and principles of the WHO FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. In the midst of the pandemic, we were encouraged by the recent Second Meeting of the Parties to this Protocol and the growing number of countries ratifying this international treaty and engaging in fruitful debate.

We have been consistent in our message that a public-private network is necessary to fight the criminal networks profiting from illicit trade. I am proud to say that the work of PMI IMPACT embodies this collaborative spirit. Our global initiative provides support to public, private, or nonprofit organizations aiming to reduce or prevent illegal trade and counter its negative consequences for individuals, their families, and communities. We announced its third funding round this year and called on organizations across the world to submit new projects. 

PMI IMPACT has funded research programs to enhance knowledge about illegal trade via educational initiatives to improve public awareness of the issue, and supported the development of technological solutions to facilitate efforts to confront illicit trade. And this year we made sure that we helped tell the story of the grantees that are at the forefront of combating illicit trade, including leveraging technology for better.

Technology is essential in deterring illicit trade, whether it be for product authentication and security or track-and-trace across supply chains. And as we look into the future, it’s imperative that we stay on top of technological developments that can be leveraged to prevent illegal trade. 

At PMI, we have been at the forefront of applying technology to secure our products and our supply chain and continue to innovate to further propel our anti-illicit trade efforts. Advancements in science and technology have enabled the development of better alternatives. In a future where these alternatives replace cigarettes for those who would otherwise continue to smoke, there is simply no place for criminals fuelling the black market with illicit products.

For us, it boils down to this: The fight against illegal trade is particularly meaningful, because we know that to deliver on our mission of a smoke-free future, we must ensure that there are no illegal actors sustaining a black market for cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Cross-sectoral collaboration and making full use of evolving technologies are crucial in the fight against illicit trade. But they mean nothing without concrete enforcement of the rule of law. We must all support law enforcement in the tremendously valuable work they do. It’s astonishing to see the incredible efforts they have dedicated to ensuring the pandemic doesn’t impede their work—continuing to disrupt clandestine factories, cross-border smuggling, or online scams.

In the end, there are three pillars we need to see thrive in 2022: public-private partnerships to ensure long-term and sustainable solutions, technological innovation as a disruptor of criminal operations, and enforcement that enacts concrete results against those involved in illicit activities. 

We need to continue to work tirelessly to change perceptions and show the true dangers and real-life consequences behind illicit trade. Because we are not just talking about an intellectual property or a tax evasion issue: Illicit trade is harming consumers, destabilizing communities worldwide, and posing a broader threat to peace and security.

We need to be relentless against this scourge. It is paramount to protect consumers from contraband and fakes—and in delivering a smoke-free future, for the benefit of all those adults who would otherwise continue smoking. Some important and significant progress has been achieved over the past year, in the public and private sectors. Let’s aim to make even more in 2022.
Alvise Giustiniani

Written by Alvise Giustiniani

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