1 in 10 cigarettes smoked in Belgium is illegal

One in 10 cigarettes smoked in Belgium is illegal, according to a study commissioned by tobacco company Philip Morris.

Illegal cigarettes are smoking products that are either smuggled in from other countries or counterfeit. The consumption of such cigarettes has doubled in Belgium in a year, from 4.6 per cent of cigarettes consumed in 2021 to 9.8 per cent last year.

"It is clear that in the current climate of economic uncertainty and sharp increases in excise duties, Belgian smokers are looking for a cheaper alternative"

A pack of smuggled or counterfeit cigarettes can easily cost half the price of a pack of legal cigarettes. "It is clear that in the current climate of economic uncertainty and sharp increases in excise duties, Belgian smokers are looking for a cheaper alternative," said Ellen Thewissen, director of Illicit Trade Prevention at Philip Morris Benelux. As a result, the government is losing an estimated 250 million euros in excise duties and VAT.

Counterfeiting on the rise

Of particular note is the large influx of smuggled cigarettes from Bulgaria in 2022, accounting for more than 20 per cent. Other countries from which cigarettes are smuggled into Belgium include Luxembourg, Turkey and Poland. Counterfeiting has also risen sharply. In 2021, 70 million counterfeit cigarettes were smoked, rising to 270 million in 2022.

Belgium has been playing a growing role in producing counterfeit cigarettes for years, mainly destined for France and the UK. Since the beginning of 2023, four illegal cigarette factories, one illegal cutting factory and nine warehouses have been discovered in Belgium. In June, the Customs Investigation Service seized 30 million counterfeit cigarettes during searches in West Flanders.

According to KPMG, which carried out the study for Philip Morris, counterfeit cigarette consumption is growing fastest in Belgium, Ireland and Croatia. With a decline of 0.3 per cent in 2022, similar to the decrease between 2020 and 2021, the company also points out that overall cigarette consumption in the EU is expected to continue its long-term decline.



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