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Smuggled ciggies 'fund Taliban'

2009-06-29 21:08

Geneva - Cigarette and tobacco smuggling is financing militant or extremist groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and sapping about $40bn a year from government budgets, campaigners said on Monday.

The claims were made as 160 countries resumed talks at the World Health Organisation on expanding an international anti-smoking treaty to clamp down on the illicit trade in tobacco.

Apart from issues such as enforcement and co-ordination, the ten-day preparatory negotiations are also examining a possible halt to duty free sales of cigarettes or measures against internet sales, WHO documents showed.

An alliance of some 350 anti-tobacco campaign groups said in a statement that concerted action against the contraband and counterfeit cigarettes trade would far outweigh the $40.5bn in lost tax revenue.

657 billion cigarettes a year

Some 11.6% of the global cigarette market was illicit, equivalent to some 657 billion cigarettes a year, the International Union against Tobacco and Lung Disease estimated in a report.

Researchers also alleged that "half a dozen terrorist" or militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Hezbollah, leftwing FARC rebels in Colombia and the Real IRA in Northern Ireland, rely on black market tobacco for revenue.

"We believe that tobacco has been second only to drugs as a source of finance to the Pakistani Taliban," said David Kaplan, editorial director of the US-based Centre for Public Integrity.

His body also highlighted "smuggling hubs" in China, Paraguay and Ukraine, where either illegally produced counterfeits or contraband excess production from legal factories were fuelling black markets around the world.

It estimated that 80% of counterfeit cigarettes in the European Union and 99% of those sold on US streets were among the estimated 400 billion made illegally every year in China.

"Renegade factories, multinational companies and weak enforcement all play a role in fuelling this massive illegal trade, whose profits rival those of narcotics," said Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Centre.

The WHO negotiations are aimed at expanding the 2003 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, that strengthened measures against smoking.