British American Tobacco says that this year will see the evolution of track and trace systems that monitor and secure products across the supply chain.
In a note published on its website, the company’s head of anti-illicit trade, Pat Heneghan, said that, according to the World Health Organization, illegal tobacco trafficking cost governments at least US$40 billion in lost taxes last year.
“Our industry loses billions in revenue too,” Heneghan was quoted as saying. “As the illicit ‘industry’ grows, so will these mammoth losses.
“Society also suffers. Those who sell illegal tobacco do not care about regulation – they will sell their wares to children and, as they’re not regulated, their customers don’t know what they are buying.
“Interpol claim proceeds can be traced back to organised criminal gangs and terrorist organisations who are also responsible for trafficking people, drugs, guns and alcohol.
“The reality is illegal tobacco traffickers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in order to stay one step ahead of law enforcement and the legitimate industry.”
This year’s World Customs Organisation’s International Customs Day was due on January 26 to focus on innovation and Heneghan said technology had a vital role to play in catching the 21st century tobacco trafficker.
“We’ve invested heavily in innovative track and trace solutions, which monitor and secure products across the supply chain,” he said.
“However, this year we will see the evolution of these types of technology solutions.
“These state-of-the-art tools will become more user-friendly for customs officials, they’ll be able to handle increasingly sophisticated data, and enable governments to exchange information quickly and easily across borders.”
But Heneghan made the point that technology alone was not enough. He said increased collaboration between the industry, governments and law enforcement agencies was key to stopping criminals who sold more than 660 billion cigarettes a year – 12 per cent of the global market.
“We saw an important step in this collaboration in South Korea last November when 176 countries signed a major WHO protocol vowing to work together to stop this highly dangerous multi-billion dollar trade,” he said.
“We are closing in on the traffickers and they know it. Time is running out. Working together we believe we can make important progress in 2013.
But that will only happen if we all play our part. Together.”