Cigarette Taxes and Illicit Trade in Europe

77 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2016 Last revised: 29 Dec 2019

See all articles by James E. Prieger

James E. Prieger

Pepperdine University - School of Public Policy

Jonathan Kulick

Marron Institute

Date Written: January 19, 2016


Cigarettes are highly taxed in Europe to discourage tobacco use and to fund public-health measures to mitigate the harms from tobacco consumption. At higher prices (more precisely, at higher differentials between licit and black-market prices) consumers substitute more toward illicit cigarettes. Illicit retail trade in cigarettes (IRTC) includes counterfeiting and smuggling — either of legally purchased products, from lower-tax to higher-tax jurisdictions, or of entirely non-tax-paid cigarettes. The existing literature includes claims that taxes are not an important factor determining the scale of IRTC. We investigate these claims with data from 1999-2013 in the European Union. We find that while the simple correlation between licit cigarette prices and the market share of illicit cigarettes in consumption is negative, raising prices in any one country would, on average, lead to substantial increases in the expected illicit market share and volume in that country. A one euro increase in tax per pack in a country is expected to increase illicit market share by 5 to 12 percentage points and increase illicit cigarette sales by 25% to 120% of the average consumption. We also find that the role of prices in stimulating IRTC is, empirically, far more important than the role of corruption. The results are robust to a host of alternative specifications and sources of data.

Keywords: black markets, tax evasion, tobacco, public policy, health policy

JEL Classification: I18, H26, K42, L66

Suggested Citation

Prieger, James E. and Kulick, Jonathan, Cigarette Taxes and Illicit Trade in Europe (January 19, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

James E. Prieger (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University - School of Public Policy ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States
3105067150 (Phone)
3105067494 (Fax)


Jonathan Kulick

Marron Institute ( email )

196 Mercer St.
New York, NY 10012
United States

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