From Transit Hub to Major Supplier of Illicit Cigarettes to Argentina and Brazil: The Changing Role of Domestic Production and Transnational Tobacco Companies in Paraguay Between 1960 and 2003

Peer reviewed: 
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Iglesias, R.M., Gomis, B., Carrillo Botero, N. et al. From transit hub to major supplier of illicit cigarettes to Argentina and Brazil: the changing role of domestic production and transnational tobacco companies in Paraguay between 1960 and 2003. Global Health 14, 111 (2018). DOI: 10.1186/s12992-018-0413-2.

Date created: 
Latin America
Illicit tobacco trade
Transnational tobacco companies
Tobacco industry
Tobacco control

Background  Paraguay has reportedly been a major transit hub for illicit tobacco products since the 1960s, initially to supply markets in Argentina and Brazil and, more recently, other regional markets and beyond. However, to date there has been no systematic analysis, notably independent of the tobacco industry, of this trade including the roles of domestic production and transnational tobacco companies (TTCs). This article fills that gap by detailing the history of Paraguay’s illicit cigarette trade to Brazil and Argentina of TTC products and Paraguayan production between 1960 and 2003. The effective control of illicit cigarette flows, under Article 15 of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and the Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, requires fuller understanding of the changing nature of the illicit trade.

Methods  We systematically searched internal industry documents to understand the activities and strategies of leading TTCs in Paraguay and subregion over time. We also mapped illicit trade volume and patterns using US government and UN data on the cigarette trade involving Paraguay. We then estimated Paraguay’s cigarette production from 1989 to 2003 using tobacco leaf flows from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database (UN Comtrade).

Results  We identify four phases in the illicit tobacco trade involving Paraguay: 1) Paraguay as a transit hub to smuggle BAT and PMI cigarettes from the U.S. into Argentina and Brazil (from the 1960s to the mid-1970s); 2) BAT and PMI competing in north-east Argentina (1989–1994); 3) BAT and PMI competing in southern and southern-east Brazil (mid to late 1990s); and 4) the growth in the illicit trade of Paraguayan manufactured cigarettes (from the mid- 1990s onwards). These phases suggest the illicit trade was seeded by TTCs, and that the system of supply and demand on lower priced brands they developed in the 1990s created a business opportunity for manufacturing in Paraguay. Brazil’s efforts to fight this trade, with a 150% tax on exports to Latin American countries in 1999, further prompted supply of the illicit trade to shift from TTCs to Paraguayan manufacturers.

Conclusion  This paper extends evidence of the longstanding complicity of TTCs in the illicit trade to this region and the consequent growth of Paraguayan production in the 1990s. Our findings confirm the need to better understand the factors influencing how the illicit tobacco trade has changed over time, in specific regional contexts, and amid tobacco industry globalization. In Paraguay, the changing roles of TTC and domestic production have been central to shifting patterns of illicit supply and distribution since the 1960s. Important questions are raised, in turn, about TTCs efforts to participate as legitimate partners in global efforts to combat the problem, including a leading role in data gathering and analysis.

Document type: 
National Institutes of Health (NIH)