Gibraltar has for years taken an increasingly-tough line on tobacco smuggling and its efforts, much maligned by successive Spanish governments, received a nod from an unlikely source this weekend – Spain’s largest tobacco company.
In an interview with Europa Sur newspaper, Rocio Ingelmo, the head of legal and corporate affairs at Altadis, acknowledged the measures taken by Gibraltar to tackle contraband in tobacco products.
She suggested too that the traditional Spanish line of “demonising” Gibraltar on issues such as smuggling was simplistic.
“It might not be apparent when viewed from La Linea, but the Government of Gibraltar has taken measures such as increasing taxes in order to reduce the price differential with Spain and is trying to stem the flow of [tobacco] products,” Ms Ingelmo said.
“A couple of years ago they limited the opening hours of shops selling tobacco and reinforced their controls.”
“They are taking steps and I think it’s complicated to just demonise a market.”
Altadis is part of Imperial Tobacco, the global tobacco company responsible for major cigarette brands including Winston.
Ms Ingelmo’s comments are significant and come as Gibraltar, the UK and Spain discuss an agreement to mitigate the practical impact of Brexit on communities on either side of the border.
The discussions include the possibility of introducing measures to further crack down on cigarette smuggling from Gibraltar into Spain.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has described tobacco as “a dying industry” and insisted Gibraltar wants “no part” in the illegitimate market in these products.
During the last budget session in June, Mr Picardo set out a range of measures signalling “a deeper and wholesale change in our attitude to tobacco duty”.
“The health of our nation requires that we should ensure that we are taking measures to dissuade people from smoking,” he said at the time.
“Not only are we extending our Tobacco Act provisions beyond cigarettes to all tobacco products, we are considering implementation in Gibraltar of international conventions on the use of tobacco and we are looking at an escalator of duty which will make high street retail tobacco prices, cigarette prices in particular, less and less attractive.”
The price of cigarettes has increased by 134% since 2011, according to Gibraltar Government data.
Likewise over the past four years, the Gibraltar Government has amended legislation to tighten retail and wholesale licensing conditions, establish tobacco-free special zones close to the border and increase the number of Customs officers, including establishing permanent observation posts in beach zones close to the frontier fence.
During the course of 2016 and 2017, Customs in Gibraltar seized nearly 7.2m contraband cigarettes and arrested 142 people for tobacco smuggling offences.
Photo: Library image of a seizure of contraband cigarettes.