Analysis of the illicit tobacco market in Georgia in response to fiscal and non-fiscal tobacco control measures

Type Journal Article - Tobacco Control
Title Analysis of the illicit tobacco market in Georgia in response to fiscal and non-fiscal tobacco control measures
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2021
Background Georgian illicit cigarette consumption was 1.5\% in 2017. In 2018, a new tobacco control law took effect followed by a substantial cigarette excise tax increase in 2019. Research shows these policies reduce tobacco consumption, but the tobacco industry argues they increase illicit trade. There is limited evidence on this, particularly from developing countries.Methods A panel household survey in Georgia obtained data over three waves: 2017 baseline, 2018 after the tobacco control law took effect and 2019 after taxes increased. A sample of 1578 smokers (and quitters in later waves) from five regions reported their tobacco use and were asked to present a cigarette pack in their possession. These were examined for tax stamps and health warnings to establish legality.Findings There was no evidence of an increase in illicit cigarette consumption in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Akhaltsikhe or Gori in any wave. In Zugdidi, near the Russian-occupied Abkhazia, illicit cigarette consumption was increasing even prior to the tax increase, reaching 30.9\% by wave 3. A country-wide shift occurred from manufactured cigarettes to roll-your-own tobacco (whose tax remained unchanged) between waves 2 and 3.Conclusion No evidence of a country-wide increase in illicit cigarette trade was found after non-fiscal tobacco measures took effect and cigarette taxes increased. Relatively high illicit cigarette consumption in Zugdidi highlights the role of disputed territories and border administration in illicit cigarette supply. Substitution towards roll-your-own tobacco after manufactured cigarette taxes increased demonstrates the importance of equalising taxes on tobacco products to maximise public health benefits.We will be making the data collected during our three waves of data collection in Georgia publicly available through the University of Cape Town{\textquoteright}s DataFirst as our data publishing repository and the data will be deidentified with no personally identifiable information of the participants made publicly available.

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