On Wednesday, July 19, 2017, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing on illicit cigarette smuggling in the OSCE region. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) presided over the hearing. Witnesses included Dr. Louise Shelley, Director of the Terrorism, Crime, and Corruption Center and George Mason University; Professor David Sweanor, adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa; and Mr. Marc Firestone, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Phillip Morris International (PMI).
In his opening statement, Chairman Wicker outlined the significant threat to global security and economic prosperity the illicit cigarette trade poses.
“Ongoing illicit [cigarette] trade helps fund terrorist activities, it fosters corruption, and it undermines the rule of law,” Chairman Wicker said.
He continued his remarks by discussing how the illicit cigarette trade affects both hard security and economic issues in the OSCE region: two of the Helsinki Final Act’s three principal dimensions.
Dr. Shelley, the first of the witnesses to testify, reiterated the Chairman’s assertion that the illicit cigarette trade represented a serious national security threat, and highlighted the impunity of cigarette smugglers as a core concern.
“There has been a problem of a culture of impunity … It’s not just criminals, it’s not just terrorists, but it’s high-level officials that are not just in policing or in the borders, but at the heads of national governments that are involved in this,” she said.
She also lamented the lack of an organized legal response to these crimes and argued that there must be more cooperation between private companies and national governments to curb this illicit trade.
Professor Sweanor focused on the economic aspects of illicit cigarette smuggling. He argued that governments should venture to undercut the economic viability of the illicit cigarette trade, by targeting demand for cigarettes.
“Give people alternatives to the sorts of illicit products that they’re buying now,” he said, “if you don’t give people alternatives to cigarettes as a product, the alternative they’re going to find is illicit cigarettes.”
The third witness, Mr. Firestone, echoed Dr. Shelley’s recommendation for greater public-private collaboration and reaffirmed Phillip Morris International’s commitment to combat illicit cigarette smuggling.
“PMI doesn’t make or enforce anti-smuggling laws. We don’t police borders. We can’t tell other companies what to do…There has to be an integrated, cooperative, comprehensive approach,” he said.
Answering a question about the role of new media companies in the illicit cigarette trade, Dr. Shelley argued for greater cooperation between U.S. government agencies and these new media firms in order to curb the illicit trade of cigarettes.
Chairman Wicker and the witnesses also discussed the process of buying illicit cigarettes and what strategies EU and OSCE national governments can follow to further stem this market.