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EU urged to adopt 'sensible regulation' to help counter trade in illicit cigarettes

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A new report unveils that only 14% of Europeans are aware that the illicit cigarette market costs EU member states over €10 billion a year in lost revenues.

At the same time it says that more than 65% of respondents identify Illicit tobacco as an EU-wide problem and two-thirds support a different policy approach.

These are among the findings of a new survey –commissioned by Philip Morris International – and conducted by the research firm Povaddo across 13 European countries. The results were released on Thursday at a media event in Brussels.

Two-thirds of the over 13 thousand European adults surveyed in the EU believe their country has a problem with illicit tobacco and nicotine-containing products.

The results also reveal that while citizens in Europe recognize illicit tobacco products use and trade as an important national and European threat to their security, safety, and public health, they are not aware of the true size of illicit trade and how much it costs in lost state revenues.

Tobacco cessation policy is affected by illicit, according to 67% of respondents, that believe that the growing illicit market is dissuading many smokers from quitting, or from adopting more expensive novel nicotine products.

To benefit all citizens in Europe and enable positive change quickly, pragmatic thinking and common sense are needed, it was said.  The survey findings highlight the public’s demand for a “sensible” approach to taxation, based on risk and evidence, to:

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  • Play a role in encouraging citizens to make better lifestyle choices (66%).
  • Incentivize industries to develop innovative products that are better for consumers, reduce their environmental impact, and positively contribute to sustainability (73%).
  • Encourage interested adult smokers to switch to scientifically substantiated, smoke-free alternatives by taxing these products lower than cigarettes, but still high enough to discourage use by youth or non-smokers (69%).

Additionally, six in ten (60%) agree that government endorsement of innovative tobacco products will have a positive impact on smokers - on average less well-off and less informed – and who in many EU countries represent a relevant proportion of smokers. They deserve equality with other more privileged Europeans who have stopped smoking or have opted for new products.

Speaking at the event, GrégoireVerdeaux, Senior Vice President, External Affairs at PMI, said, “We know the potential to do better for adult smokers exists, as several member states have carried out similar policy approaches in, among others, energy, cars, and alcohol. Pragmatic policies have the power to improve people’s lives, incentivizing companies to innovate for the better and provide equitable access to technological advances, especially in a time of economic instability.”

William Stewart, president/founder of Povaddo Research, said it is hoped the results will encourage EU and national authorities to take a moment to assess the results of current policies and consider other approaches.

This, he suggested, can come through “sensible regulation and taxation, while creating an environment that fosters innovations.”

Stewart says that one of the aims of the survey was to “assess Europeans’ awareness and perceptions on illicit tobacco consumption, adult smokers and the policies that can help them quit smoking or switching to better alternatives.”

The survey, he noted, also aimed to focus on whether adult smokers are receiving the right support, “given the current times of inflation and economic uncertainty in Europe.”

The survey respondents said the development of smoke-free technologies should enable progress and play an important role in public health in complementing existing measures.

 Six in ten (61%) of respondents believe that in addition to encouraging the complete cessation of risky behaviors, the EU should also prioritize policies and strategies that seek to improve the lives of those who continue to smoke cigarettes, drink irresponsibly, or use drugs. 

Seven in ten (69%) see innovation, technological breakthroughs, and science playing a role in reducing smoking rates.

Almost three-quarters (72%) agree that the EU should dedicate time and resources to eradicating smoking by encouraging all smokers to quit completely, or for those who don’t, switch to a scientifically substantiated smoke-free alternative.

The media event heard it was “encouraging” that a growing number of countries are adopting risk-differentiated regulation which can play a “decisive role in driving consumers to adopt better alternatives if they do not quit, and companies to invest in innovation.”

It is worth noting that cigarettes are among the most illegally trafficked goods in the world and fall into three main categories: contraband, counterfeit, and illicit whites.

Povaddo conducted the online survey between 10-15 November among 13,630 legal-age general population adults aged 18 and older in 13 EU member states: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain. Around 1,000 online interviews were conducted in each country (approximately equally split between adults who do and do not use nicotine-containing products).

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