Portugal this week became the latest European country forced to take robust law enforcement action against smugglers of illegal tobacco. Portuguese police said they have arrested the leader of a tobacco smuggling gang and seized 1.2 million cigarettes in Porto and Aveiro, both in the north of Portugal. The police also said that a total of 10 individuals and two companies had been charged in connection with the smuggling.
This seizure follows just one week on from the release of data showing that tobacco products have become more expensive in Portugal from taxation, and serves as a salutary reminder of how vigilant policymakers must be when tackling illegal tobacco. Reckless tax policy, which pushes up the price of tobacco products at an unsustainable rate, both undermines government revenues and encourages illegal trade.
ESTA Secretary General Peter van der Mark said: “ESTA applauds the efforts of Portuguese police to crack down on smuggling gangs bringing illegal tobacco onto the European market. However, law enforcement officers are fighting an uphill battle against policies being enacted by tax authorities which drive more and more people into the illegal market. Bodies of the state cannot work in silo: the efforts of law enforcement cannot be undermined by ill-conceived government policies, whether they be plain-packaging policies which have no effect save to facilitate smuggling, or reckless tax policies which drive legitimate consumers into the black market.”