Independent report on black market tobacco trade published

News article

12 October 2023

Manatū Hauora today published a report from the University of Auckland into the illicit tobacco trade in Aotearoa New Zealand during 2022.

This peer reviewed study uses a range of methods including discarded pack surveys, interviews with NZ Customs, consumption gap analysis and social media surveillance. Overall, it has found evidence from a range of sources of a downward trend in illicit trade in tobacco in New Zealand.

The consumption gap analysis estimates illicit trade in tobacco in New Zealand was estimated to be 143 million cigarettes in 2022 – 8.4% of the market. This figure provides an important baseline which will be used to measure changes to the market in future years.

Of the regions studied, most activity was found in Auckland, with the main source of illegal cigarettes coming from China and Korea.

The volume of illicit tobacco intercepted by NZ Customs has grown in recent years, which suggests better detection of illicit tobacco at the border. NZ Customs received funding in Budget 2022 to address tobacco smuggling and there have been recent changes to prohibit importation of tobacco products by air cargo and international mail.

As the report states, illicit tobacco trade not only affects the Government's ability to support and provide public services to New Zealanders, but also undermines law and order, the Government's Smokefree 2025 goal, and affects the health and lives of New Zealanders.

‘Reducing the number of retailers who can sell tobacco in 2024 to 599 retailers, and reducing the level of nicotine in cigarettes to make them less addictive in 2025, will further change tobacco habits in Aotearoa. These measures will make it much easier for people to quit smoking or stay smokefree,’ said Dr Andrew Old, Deputy Director-General, Public Health Agency.

‘These changes to tobacco control policy could potentially affect the illegal market. We welcome this report as it is important we understand what the illicit tobacco market looks like, and are able to assess trends and changes in the market as the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act 2022 takes effect.’

The report is available at Research, Evaluation and Monitoring of Illicit Tobacco in New Zealand: Baseline report 2022.

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