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How illicit trade impacts Sri Lanka

The illicit trade undermines tobacco control policies implemented by the Sri Lankan Government and results in a massive loss in government revenue, while funding of transnational criminal activities.


This video is based on true events and provides an in-depth insight into the unscrupulous world of Sri Lanka’s cigarette smuggling network.

Illicit Trading of Cigarettes in Sri Lanka

Latest figures from the report done by The Research Intelligence Unit (RIU) on  - ‘Economics of Tobacco Taxation in Sri Lanka - Effects and The Need for a Prudent Framework, indicates that  21% of the total cigarettes consumed in Sri Lanka is illicit (smuggled). This is no surprise with Sri Lanka currently having the highest cigarette prices in the world in relation to purchasing power parity (WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic – 2019). The smuggled cigarette industry has grown exponentially over the past 3 years in the absence of a level playing field.

99% of illicit cigarettes are smuggled to Sri Lanka via Dubai, Turkey, China and Vietnam.

Cigarette Smuggling: Low Risk - High Reward

Given that the maximum penalty for smuggling cigarettes into the country is LKR 1 million, the low risk - high reward scenario is a major incentive for many crime syndicates to divert resources to illicit trafficking.

Fighting Illicit Trade in Sri Lanka

Abolishing illicit trade requires strong cooperation between the Government, law enforcement and the legal industry. Here are a few things that can help fight smuggling of cigarettes into the country.

  • State to actively carry out obligations of WHO Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Tobacco Trade.
  • Robust deterrence through increased penalties, making the illicit trade unviable.
  • Dedicated Customs & Police Units to tackle illicit cigarettes.
  • State engagement with foreign governments to stop products at origin.
  • Cross industry collaboration & knowledge sharing