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Illegal Tobacco Trade in Germany Essay

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Updated: Mar 11th, 2022


One of the world’s rapidly increasing threats to human security is organized crime. This threat does not only negatively implicate the political, social, and economic wellbeing, but also the cultural aspects of the society. Whereas drug trafficking may be considered the most common form of transnational organized crime, there are several other manifestations of this vice. Among them are trafficking in women and children, illegal smuggling of firearms and ammunition, money laundering, et cetera. Consequently, this paper intends to point out how these organized crimes are carried out, the people involved, their motives, and the effort of the government agencies to curb the practice. To facilitate this, the illegal smuggling of tobacco within the European Union by organized groups will serve as the point of focus.

The Group

The import and export of cigarettes are not illegal per se. However, the legal aspects associated with it and the diverse sanctions to control the use of the product are what have given birth to the illegal aspect of it. Many countries have imposed heavy taxes and other sanctions on the product hence reducing the profit margin of people involved. therefore, individuals and groups have formed transnational cooperation to ensure that the products get past the borders into the country and sold to the black market without being taxed or subjected to various sanctions. To facilitate these movements, intricate channels have been formed with each one being delegated a duty from purchasing and transporting to distribution and selling to the customers.

Most people tend to believe that all groups that operate in organized crime are rough-looking young men with an ugly record of crimes and gang involvement. However, this does not give the true picture of groups involved in such activities. Especially, the groups involved in cigarette smuggling in the European Union do not align with this stereotyping notion. According to Lampe (2001, para. 10), the illegal trade in cigarettes in the European Union has attracted a great diversity of races and backgrounds. In Germany, the groups involved in illegal cigarette smuggling are Poles. A number of them have formed small groups consisting of around four people who are bound by either friendship or family relations. Lampe further points out that contrary to many people’s expectations, the Polish entrepreneurs who run these small cartels are individuals without established criminal records. In fact, most of them have a good education and hold on to good jobs. To improve their financial capacity, they formulate small groups with family members or friends and start illegally smuggling cigarettes from Poland into Germany and several other European Union countries (United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, 2010, para. 6).

Another dominant group that is involved in cigarette smuggling in Germany is the Vietnamese. This trend was established by the former guest workers who had been brought into East Germany but who lost their jobs after the collapse of the regime of communism in the late eighties. Being jobless and not full citizens, they could not attain legitimate jobs. This forced them to devise ways through which they could make money. Consequently, they started buying contraband goods (especially cigarettes) from tourists coming from Poland and other countries East of Europe. However, this trend experienced a deep when the German government bestowed them permanent residence hence allowing them to get legitimate jobs. Despite this, some of them had established roots in the trade and thus continued to promote it. They now remain the major suppliers of illegal cigarettes to street vendors in Germany.

How They Operate

These groups usually operate in a network setup. This means that certainties that enable a trustable continuous flow from one region to the other interlink the chains. Lampe (2001, para. 12) identifies three main aspects of relationships that lead to the development of ties. The first instrument of cohesion is a relationship developing from a given criminal activity common between the two parties forming a chain. Second, relationships get established from the cooperation between two groups that had non-economic criminal structures. Finally, cohesion can be cemented by social ties which easily develop trust between the two points. The social aspects include family and friends.

Some parts of this trade are usually performed in a completely legal setup. As examined, procurement of the cigarettes is done from legal sellers within the European Union. This means that purchasing these products requires no discrete activities. The business organizations involved in the business are legitimate and hence even its workers do not realize that they are involved in crime. The illegal part of the business comes in when the unloading and distributing of the cigarettes come on the platform.

Aafter offloading of the contraband goods, all the processes involved after that are high risk hence better methods have to be employed. The whole chain of transportation and distribution is characterized by several pyramidal levels. As mentioned above, these low stages on the pyramid of distribution are high risk. This calls for stronger links and bonds for the players involved. on the other hand, the links could be ad hoc given the economy of scale of the income involved and the risk on the other hand. Lampe (2001, para. 15) identifies a link where the distribution was done by persons without any given connection. In this case, a Polish illicit trader resorted to using the services of Slovaks to ensure that his consignment moved safely from its point of origin closer to the Polish border to Berlin where it would be sold to Vietnamese clients who would later distribute them to vendors. The relationship between the Slovaks and the Polish trader was simply an accidental meeting that in their hometown that made them short-time buddies. They were paid several Euros to transport the products.

The Group’s Main Focus

For every criminal activity, there has to be an aim or focus. They range from economic, political or social reasons. Considering our case, one might want to understand the reason why the Poles and the Vietnamese engage in risky activities. This part intends to point out the main focus of these people before being involved in the illegal trade. Lampe (2001, para. 26) clearly points out the focus and objective of the organized Polish and Vietnamese organizations involved in illegal cigarette smuggling. He argues that they do it too, “overcome financial difficulties in the period of transition following the fall of the iron curtain” (para. 26). This is evidenced by the small-scale endeavors by the Polish cartels in Germany. These groups are made up of a small number of people, four to five, all of them either close friends or family. They only have to smuggle the goods across the border and sell them locally to the street vendors and directly to the consumers. In addition, the Vietnamese involvement in this trade was purely economic-based. The principal objective of their involvement in the trade was to get some financial backbone that would support them in an economy that did not allow them to get legitimate jobs. To this moment, the main endeavor and focus of the parties involved in the trade are purely to gain some economic advantage through evaded tax. As Lampe (2001, para. 7) argues, the trade-in cigarettes in itself is not a crime. The criminal aspect of it is the avoidance of taxes and other specifications in the different legislative measures.

Government’s Effort Against these Groups

The first way through which the government of Germany is fighting against illegal trade on cigarettes is through legislative measures. Germany is one of the countries within the European Union that was at the forefront of signing the Anti-Contraband and Anti-Counterfeit Act to contain illicit trade on tobacco. This Act, which is currently operative in all the States of the European Union has allowed all the countries to harmonize their war against the trade. With a similar goal, Germany whose taxes were comparatively high hence triggering the trade will now be in a position to play on level ground with other countries (Sawyer, 2009, p. 1).

In addition to the European Union move, the World Health Organization has also assisted in the control of illicit trade through the enactment of legislative measures. The World Health Organization enacted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). This treaty came into force in 2005 and has assisted in combating illegal trade in tobacco not just in Germany or the European Union but the world (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 2010).

Technology is also offering tools by which illicit trade in tobacco can be curbed. Although this method is still under construction, many governments are trying to come up with measures to facilitate it. Technology is being used to advance ways through which tracking and tracing of contraband goods can be done. Germany is one of the nations that are promoting this technological venture (Framework Convention Allowance, n.d, p. 1).


Organized crime can lead to economic, political, social, and cultural drawbacks within a given country. Equally, the trade in illicit tobacco has had many negative implications on the economy of Germany. While trade in tobacco in itself does not pose any legality issues, organized criminal organizations engage in this trade but in most cases evade taxes and other legislative measures within countries of trade. For instance, Polish families and Vietnamese residents have engaged in the illegal tobacco trade by capitalizing on its cheap prices in Eastern European countries and illegally selling them to vendors and users in Germany. These groups operate in intricate chains that enable them to buy, transport, and sell cigarettes. According to literature, most of these groups attain cohesion through social ties which include friendship and family. In addition, the literature shows further that these groups engage in the activities for economic benefits. Considering the economic implications of the trade, countries have tried to come up with measures to curb this crime. These measures include legislative Acts and technological approaches. Although the trade continues it is possible that with appropriate measures this could be rooted out.


Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2010). Organized crime. Web.

Framework Convention Alliance. (n.d). The Use of technology to combat the illicit tobacco trade. 2010. Web.

Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. (2010). The Illicit Trade Protocol for Tobacco Products. Web.

Lampe, Von Klaus. (2001). The illegal cigarette market in Germany: A case study of organized crime. Web.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2010). UNODC and organized crime. Web.

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