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JTI seeks intelligence sharing among relevant officers to curb global illicit trade global counterfeit trade to reach $4 trillion in 2022

To curb the fast-growing illicit trade in the global market of tobacco business, the Global Anti-Illicit Trade Operations Director at Japan Tobacco International (JTI) Ian Monteith has called for cooperation with enhanced intelligence sharing between law enforcement agencies (LEAs) supported by key private sector players.

In the same vein, the International Chamber of Commerce has predicted that global counterfeit trade will reach $4 trillion by the year 2022. These were part of submissions made on Wednesday September 22, 2021 during the special panel discussion focusing on combating illegal trade in tobacco and nicotine products at this year’s Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF) held in London, United Kingdom.

A major session of the Forum themed: Getting to net-zero: sustainable strategies to stamp out illegal trade of tobacco products, had experts’ discussions on the global state of illicit trade in tobacco.

The experts were, Sergio Miranda, Sergeant and Specialist in Contraband Investigation in the Quebec Police Force (Sureté de Québec), Canada; Lawrence Hutter, Senior Advisor, Alvarez & Marsal, London; Ian Monteith, Global Anti-Illicit Trade Operations Director at Japan Tobacco International (JTI), Global Headquarters, Geneva; and Dina Razvan, Romanian Police Sub Commissioner, Directorate of Preventing and Countering Illegal Migration and Cross-border Crime.

The panel reviewed the latest trends in the illegal trade of tobacco and nicotine and key causes that exacerbate the illegal trade of tobacco products. They also assessed upcoming risks emerging from the COVID-19 crisis, and outlined strategies for curtailing the rising number of organized crime networks and individuals.

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In the course of the discussion, a report from the World Bank revealed that, global illegal tobacco trade is already worth an estimated $40 -50 billion each year; while the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned that Covid-19 has created new opportunities for organized crime to profit. “Often the ‘front door’ is illicit tobacco sales but behind that is a more sinister business of human trafficking and modern slavery”.

In his response to the question posed by the moderator of the session, Shane Britten, CEO of Crime Stoppers International on how COVID crisis had impacted illegal trade in cigarettes and if closed borders during the lockdown had decreased illegal traffic, lan Monteith, Global Anti-Illicit Trade Operations Director at Japan Tobacco International (JTI), disclosed that criminals have continued to take advantage of COVID with continental differences.

“They recognize that as unemployment increases, purchasing power and disposable income reduces. These organized criminals are highly adaptable, creative, exploiting public anxiety and enriching themselves not just from tobacco but other products such as PPE, alcohol and pharmaceuticals. Even counterfeit COVID vaccines have been identified in Asia,” Monteith said.

Stating the fact on the people behind the illegal trade of tobacco products, Monteith averred that some consumers believe illegal tobacco is a victimless crime. “We need to inform them of the broader social impact of buying illicit products from criminal groups. Many of these groups also traffic people and weapons, with far-reaching consequences for society.

“Illegal trade impacts everyone: farmers, millions of retailers, and hundreds of thousands of suppliers to consumers. The loss of revenue to law-abiding people is significant, as is the impact on consumers who are lured into buying sub-standard products”, he said.

On measures to be taken to address illegal trade of tobacco products, Monteith emphasised that vigorous enforcement and robust deterrents are essential to combat illegal trade; advising cooperation with enhanced intelligence sharing, between law enforcement agencies (LEAs) supported by the private sector.

He also stated that information between relevant government agencies and LEAs is needed at both an international and national level, along with a desire to increase the fines and punishments for those caught producing, distributing, and selling illegal tobacco products.

Monteith explains further that better cooperation means stepping up enforcement at borders, improving intelligence sharing between the tobacco industry and LEAs; simultaneously, governments must explore fiscal measures that allow consumer confidence to grow and avoid the temptation to spend on illicit products.

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