Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Smuggling creates employment, says report

CAMPO DE GIBRALTAR A recent article in El País reported that tobacco smuggling actually creates employment in Spain, especially in the Campo de Gibraltar and around the border with Andorra. Referring to the former, in a district suffering under almost 40% unemployment, it is commonplace to cross the border into Gibraltar for tobacco is one way of making ends meet, or to just put food on the table. A carton of tobacco on the Rock costs about €25; once in Spain it has gone up to €42 - a €17 profit. In fact, tobacco smuggling in the Campo area, says the article, is not looked upon as shameful 'employment', rather the opposite. And anyway, smuggling from Gibraltar into Spain is a tradition that goes back as far as the late 1700s, when Britain seized the Rock from Spain. For a number of years, as recently as the 1960s and 70s, it was a means of survival not dissimilar to the circumstances today.PLEASE BE AWARE THAT ITEMS SUCH AS THIS MAY BE SUBJECT TO SUBSCRIPTION IN THE FUTURE but you can make a donation NOW, too! Please click here for more information on how to help us continue. (This item has taken 54 minutes to produce.)>>>
However, the Spanish government instructed the local authorities (Guardia Civil, Customs unit) to carry out stricter controls of laws that already existed but were not often implemented: one carton of tobacco per person per month. That was on March 1. On March 2 there was a demonstration in La Línea that to anyone unaware of the current circumstances must surely have wondered if they had wandered into La-La Land. They had: the demo was to ask the authorities not to be so strict carrying out the law.

As it says in a Panorama (Gibraltar) article: nowhere in the world is such smuggling going on so visibly. Official Spanish data says that in 2009 over 11 million crossed the frontier; this went up to over 12 million the following year and to over 13 million in 2011. The El País report adds, "That additional 2 million of movements correspondend, in its majority, to persons who go to Gibraltar to buy tobacco." Vehicles account for about half a million - and some 60 motorbikes cross the border per minute.

This is serious smuggling.

(CampoPulse stopped reporting fully about police and customs officials catching enormous amounts of contraband tobacco; one of the most astonishing seizures spoke of almost 18,000 packets. There are daily reports of cars being stopped on Spanish roads carrying anything between 800 packs to well over a couple of thousand.)

The article in Panorama says that "towards the end of 2010 there was a change in circumstances in the type of smuggling, according to a Spanish official. Down went the arrests of faked tobacco, which was not imported for use in Spain, and it was back to the traditional way - tobacco for Spanish consumption perhaps because the crisis and other factors has led to more people being prepared to get involved."

One of many concerns about the tobacco being smuggled is about health - and not only because of how bad smoking is for you. Much of the brands brought in are fake, almost exclusively made in China. The contents of most of these cigarrettes should be cause for considerable public health alarm, though it doesn't seem to have been so. An article in STV reveals the true danger of counterfeit tobacco, which is well worth reading on the subject: smoking 20 market-bought cigarettes found to be as harmful as smoking 600 genuine cigarette. 

Phillip Morris, says Panorama, has said that 80% of counterfeit brands the company owns (including Marlboro, Virginia Slims, Merit, Parliament, Benson & Hedges, L&M, Chesterfield, Lark , Cambridge and Basics, among others) comes from China, but there is an increasing tendency to open illegal factories in Europe, mostly in countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, where blind eyes are the order of the day.

But there is more. Contraband tobacco pays no tax. Many of the Campo's tobacconists complain that their sales have gone down by large percentages. There is a perception in Gibraltar - which profits significantly from smuggling, though you'd never get anyone to admit it publicly - that the problem on the Spanish side is exaggerated in order to try for lower duty on cigarrettes. However, the number of  estancos (official tobacconists) in La Línea plummeted from 9 to 3 in less than a year.

As recent study on the subject reports that sales of illegal, contraband tobacco in Spain went up year-on-year from 4.2% to 9.5% during the fourth last quarter of 2011. Seizures at the border have gone up, too: from 989 in 2010 to over 2,000 last year.

The El País report says that organizations exist with over 100 'employees', which have rented garages and storerooms close to the frontier in La Línea, where the smuggled cartons, cases and packets are kept for 
distribution. Sales of tobacco through the government-allowed tobacconists in the province of Cádiz, for instance, have dropped by 34% over the same period.

El País spoke to a representative of the unemployed in La Línea, who said that smuggling is a way of life in times of crisis, but there are whole families coming from much further away to get in on the game, thus creating competition and ill feeling. "It could be dangerous," said the man.

The problem is, too, that it is much easier, less bulky, to transport drugs, ranging from heroin and cocaine to all kinds of pills (much of which latter is also produced in China, and India) across a frontier that is concentrating on tobacco, which is supposedly less harmful.

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