Tobacco Trade: Bad Enough without Illicit Trade

Illicit tobacco trade is deterring efforts to combat hazards to public health. Ethiopia should thus adopt the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products of the FCTC, writes Dagim Alemayehu (, legal expert at the FMHACA.

Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease in the world. Studies show that tobacco kills half of its consumers. There are more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco products. Hundreds are toxic, and at least 70 are known to cause cancer. Many of these chemicals can also cause health problems such as heart and lung diseases.

In response to the globalisation of the tobacco epidemic, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was developed. It is an international treaty designed to reduce tobacco-related deaths and diseases around the world.

Adopted in May 2003, the FCTC targets to internationally regulate tobacco production and distribution in an effort to protect people from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure from its smoke. It was signed in 2005 and ratified by Ethiopia in 2014.

Parties to the FCTC have adopted the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products by consensus on November 2012. With the ratification of the United Kingdom in June 2018, the necessary number of Parties to the Protocol was fulfilled, and it came into force on September 25, 2018. It was the first protocol to the FCTC.

The Protocol was developed in response to the growing international illicit trade in tobacco products. Such trade fuels the tobacco epidemic and undermines tobacco control policies by increasing accessibility and affordability of tobacco products. As part of its duty to implement the FCTC, the Ethiopian government is working to ratify the protocol on Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, which includes comprehensive, evidence-based measures to reduce illegal trade.

The Protocol contains a full range of measures to combat illicit trade. It includes several essential provisions in the prevention and control of the illegal trade in tobacco products such as promoting law enforcement and providing the legal basis for international cooperation.

Provisions of the Protocol dealing with prevention of illegal trade in tobacco aims to secure the supply chain of tobacco products, through licensing, record keeping, requiring the establishment of a global tracking and tracing system that will allow governments to adequately follow-up with tobacco products from the point of production to the first point of sale. It provides for strong international cooperation including on information sharing, technical and law enforcement, mutual legal and administrative assistance, and extradition.

The ratification and implementation of this Protocol requires countries to establish a global track and trace system comprised of a national and regional tracking and tracing system, and a global information sharing point that is located at the convention secretariat, WHO headquarters.

The implementation of a global track and trace system helps Ethiopia to track tobacco products throughout the distribution chain to determine at what point the illicit trade channel is situated, which will significantly transform government’s capability to detect counterfeit and illegal tobacco products

Track and trace systems similar to the one adopted in Kenya are the key requirement of the FCTC Protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products. In 2008 the Kenyan Revenue Authority proposed to implement a track and trace system. Given the lengthy process of selecting a provider, the Authority decided in 2010 to implement a set of temporary measures.

Later though, the Authority set up the Excisable Goods Management System for tobacco and alcohol products in 2013. Features of the system include electronic digital stamps – with overt security features – that ensure taxes have been paid and that photosensitive readers are fixed on production lines.

This allowed for the verification of the legality of a product at any point in distribution. An authorised field officer may inspect a premise at any time, seize illicit products and arrest the offender on the spot. This Kenyan experience demonstrates that even a lower middle-income country, similar to ours, is capable of successfully implementing such a system.

Moreover, the protocol is a milestone in strengthening global action against tobacco. It supplements the FCTC with comprehensive tools to counter and eventually eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products and strengthen the legal dimension for international health cooperation.

The ratification and implementation of the protocol will allow Ethiopia to prevent illicit trade in tobacco products and will subsequently result in the strengthening of protection of public revenue.

Annually, 40.5 billion dollars in global tax revenues is lost from the illicit trade of tobacco products, according to the WHO. In some countries, illicit trade can reach up to as high as 40 to 50pc of the overall tobacco market. Our country is at risk, as the illicit tobacco trade is more prominent in low and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.

While eliminating the illicit trade would gain governments at least 31.3 billion dollars every year, more than 164,000 premature deaths every year would be avoided from 2030 onward, the vast majority in middle and low-income countries.

Furthermore, if illicit trade is prevented, tobacco control measures on legally traded products, such as graphic health warnings and tobacco tax increases, will be more likely to achieve their intended effect. This is to reduce the demand for tobacco and ensuring public health.

If a tobacco product enters the market through smuggling, those legally marketed tobacco products bearing the requested health warning will become out of reach of the consumer and the required message will not be conveyed to the ultimate user. Illicit tobacco trade can also undermine the effectiveness of raising tobacco prices and tax measures by increasing accessibility and affordability of tobacco products.

Ethiopia has missed the chance to become one of the first 40 parties to the protocol and be endowed with the decision-making power to promote it. The nation though has to scale up its efforts to ratify the protocol and fuel its efforts to prevent the illicit trade of tobacco products for the protection of public health.

By Dagim Alemayehu
Dagim Alemayehu (, legal expert at the FMHACA.

Published on Nov 03,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 966]



With a reformist administration in charge of the executive, there has b...


The new electricity tariffs that became effective on December 1, 2018,...


Who it is that midwifed the rapprochement between E...


Desert Locusts have been costly to combat, because efforts are made aft...


A recent photo between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and George Soros...


The future is bleak. Millennials and younger generations who will inher...

View From Arada

There is heated debate on the propriety, decency and morality of breast...

Business Indicators


Editors Pick